Comcast Beats Estimates as Internet Customers Surpass Cable

Tuesday, May 05, 2015

Comcast Corp., the cable provider that dropped its bid to buy Time Warner Cable Inc. 10 days ago, reported first-quarter profit that beat analysts’ estimates after signing up more Internet customers.

Earnings were 79 cents a share, excluding some items, Philadelphia-based Comcast said in a statement. Analysts projected 74 cents, the average of predictions compiled by Bloomberg. In a sign of how business is changing, the number of Web subscribers -- more than 22 million -- surpassed cable-TV customers for the first time after the quarter ended.

Comcast, the nation’s biggest cable provider, is seeking a path forward after abandoning its $45.2 billion plan to purchase Time Warner Cable. The deal would have combined the No. 1 and the No. 2 in the industry, but Comcast abandoned the merger after concluding that regulators would reject it.

The cable giant still has plenty of options to expand, including exploring deals for additional TV programming abroad, using its vast network of Wi-Fi hot spots to introduce a mobile-phone service, and build on its effort to improve the quality and speed of high-speed Internet access to consumers’ homes.

Comcast, which has beaten or met earnings expectations in seven of the past nine quarters, also plans to increase its stock buyback by 59 percent to $6.75 billion this year.

The stock rose 0.6 percent to close at $58.78. The shares have gained 1.3 percent this year, while the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index has increased 2.7 percent.

The company signed up 407,000 new Internet customers in the quarter, 6.2 percent more than it did a year earlier. The number also topped the 377,000 average prediction of six analysts’ estimates compiled by Bloomberg.
Broadband Customers

The company is trying to add more broadband customers as the number of Americans signing up for cable-TV packages slows and more programming is offered through online services, such as Netflix Inc., prompting some people to cancel their cable service.

Comcast lost 8,000 cable subscribers in the quarter, after adding 24,000 a year earlier. Analysts anticipated a gain of 7,500, on average.

First-quarter net income rose 10 percent percent to $2.06 billion, or 81 cents a share, from $1.87 billion, or 71 cents, a year earlier. Revenue increased 2.6 percent to $17.9 billion, beating the average estimate of $17.4 billion.

The average monthly bill rose 4.7 percent to $140.41.

Sales at Comcast’s NBCUniversal group, which includes the NBC broadcast network, cable channels such as USA and MSNBC, and the Universal film studio, declined 4 percent to $6.6 billion, due partly to a decline in ratings. Excluding NBC’s broadcasts of this year’s Super Bowl and last year’s Olympics, sales at NBCUniversal were up 7.9 percent.

NBCUniversal has increased the fees it charges pay-TV distributors to carry its content in an effort to offset advertising declines caused by lower cable ratings.

Revenue at NBCUniversal’s theme parks were up 34 percent to $651 million, driven by new “Harry Potter” attractions.

The film division generated $1.45 billion in sales, up 7 percent from a year earlier, driven by the success of the film “Fifty Shades of Grey.”

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