Allow me to share with you a recipe for creating a nice company for 2007. Assume a clear leadership position in a pervasive industry, instill in it growth prospects for as far as the eye can see, and provide it with truly superior management. Then place it in the oven and watch happily as it rises nearly 70% in 2006.
That's precisely Comcast's (Nasdaq: CMCSA ) 2006 recipe. The results have been ever so nice for the company's shareholders, and there's no evidence that their ride is slowing.
Comcast isn't quite an Abe Lincoln story, but it's close. The company began in Elvis' hometown of Tupelo, Miss., in 1963, when Ralph Roberts -- now 86, still active, and chairman of the company's executive and finance committee -- headed a group that bought a whopping 1,200-subscriber cable system there. And while there's no evidence as to whether Roberts was a fan of Elvis, Comcast clearly has become The King of the cable world.
Today, that original group of 1,200 Comcast subscribers has expanded to 24.1 million, easily the leading position ahead of Time Warner's (NYSE: TWX ) cable unit, Charter Communications (NYSE: CHTR ) , and Mediacom (Nasdaq: MCCI ) . Comcast also serves more than 11 million customers in its high-speed data group and 2 million customers of its newly offered voice over Internet protocol telephony product.
Indeed, it is precisely this triumvirate of products that comprises the company's bundled offering. Lured by the opportunity to gain a one-bill trio of services from a single company, 558,000 new digital video subscribers, 536,000 data customers, and 483,000 new telephony users signed on with the company in the third quarter alone. As John Alchin, co-chief financial officer of the company, noted at the recent Credit Suisse Media and Telcom Week, "After three successive years of about 2.5 [million] or 2.6 million RGU net additions [an RGU, or revenue generating unit, is one subscriber taking one service from the company], we are accelerating this year to the point that we added 1.5 million RGUs in the third quarter alone, on our way to about a 4.8 million number for the year."
As you know, cable companies don't compete with each other, but they've had to look over their shoulders at satellite television providers DirecTV (NYSE: DTV ) and Echostar (Nasdaq: DISH ) and telephone companies Verizon (NYSE: VZ ) and AT&T (NYSE: T ) . The latter two are adding a video product and introducing their own triple play offerings. The specter of that competition seemed to sour the market on cable stocks in the five-year period before this year. Now, however, the maturation of a robust video-on-demand product is providing cable with a leg up on the satellite providers, and the telcos still have considerable work to do in plant creation and content aggregation.
All this made Comcast an awfully nice company in 2006. And with 2007 potentially shaping up to be more of the same, Elvis would have been proud.
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