The cable industry is on the brink of a major sea change, and savvy investors should view this upheaval as an opportunity to tune in to major profits.
Rapid technological innovation is forcing the industry to adapt or die, and companies such as AT&T (NYSE:T) and Comcast (NASDAQ:CMCSA) are well positioned to not only survive but also thrive in this new media order. So let's see why income investors interested in the cable industry should consider adding shares of either cash-cow company to their portfolios.
Thanks to recent merger activity, the country's second-largest wireless provider by subscribers is well positioned to emerge as one of the most powerful companies in all of cable in the coming years.
In 2014, AT&T paid $48.5 billion to acquire satellite-TV provider DIRECTV. As of Q1 2017, DIRECTV users provided the bulk of the 25 million cable subscribers in AT&T's entertainment-group reporting segment. But it's not done building its competitive position here. Last year, AT&T reached an agreement to purchase Time Warner (NYSE:TWX) for $85.4 billion, a deal that will give AT&T control over Time Warner's leading TV and motion-picture production assets, which include HBO, TNT, TBS, CNN, Warner Bros. Pictures. and much more.
Combined with AT&T's nationwide wireless network and its 146.8 million wireless customer relationships, this deal should lay the groundwork for AT&T to eventually launch its own over-the-top cable service that flows directly to consumers' wireless devices, much like its DIRECTV Now service that has served as something of a pilot program for this broader offering. When bundled with other services AT&T has historically provided, such as wireless and internet services, the company is poised to become one of the few to offer such a comprehensive set of services under one roof.
The Time Warner buyout and subsequent moves should helped extend AT&T's vaunted history as a dividend stock. The company has increased its dividends per share for 32 consecutive years, earning it the enviable status of a dividend aristocrat. Add to that its current 5% yield, and AT&T is one of the best dividend options in the cable space.
Cable giant Comcast lands on this list for the same reason as AT&T. It's the only other company across the telecom or media industry in a position to develop a bundle of services, including an over-the-top cable product.
Comcast already provides cable, Internet, and phone services, so it will need to launch its own wireless service to bring this wireless cable bundle to market. The company appears to have plans to do just that, with reports that it will launch a wireless network by leasing capacity from other telecom companies at some point in 2017. The company also spent $1.7 billion to bolster its spectrum holdings during the FCC's recent auction. All signs point to the eventual creation of a wireless bundle to challenge AT&T.
As a dividend stock, Comcast trails AT&T in several key regards. Its current dividend program has been around only since 2008, and shares currently yield 1.4%, a little below the S&P 500's 1.9%. Comcast has, however, increased its dividend every year since it started offering a payout. The company also currently pays out just 30.2% of net income, which gives it plenty of room to continue increasing its payout in the years to come.
So while it lags AT&T as an income investment, the future appears bright for Comcast, including continued dividend growth in the years to come.