Comcast (NASDAQ:CMCSA) shares dropped earlier this month after a top executive said the company expected significant subscriber losses when it reports its third-quarter numbers.
Matthew Strauss, executive vice president for Comcast's Xfinity services, said he expected the company to report a loss of 100,000 to 150,000 subscribers for the quarter in comments made during a Merrill Lynch media conference USA TODAY reported. The executive cited increased competition and Hurricane Harvey for the drop, and the comments were made before Hurricane Irma hit.
Just that comment sent the cable giant's shares moving in the wrong direction. Strauss's remarks were made on September 7. Shares in the company opened at $41.25 that day and closed it at $38.60, dropping to $38.21 when the market closed for the week on September 8, a 7% drop.
It's easy to see why investors might be spooked, but in reality, the company has little to worry about in the short term. Comcast may join the rest of the industry in seeing cord-cutting affect its cable business, but it has the tools to cover those losses in other areas.
What's happening at Comcast?
Investors should consider taking advantage of a rare chance to buy the company at a discount. Losing subscribers -- even 150,000 in one quarter -- is a minor wound given how fast the chain has been adding broadband customers.
As you can see from the chart above, cord-cutting has affected Comcast, but broadband subscriber gains have more than covered those losses. In the short term, it's possible the projected Q3 cable subscriber losses are a sign that the trend of people dropping traditional pay television will increase.
That's just a guess, since two quarters of losses (Comcast gained cable customers in Q1) don't count as a definitive trend. But even if cord-cutting has picked up speed, Comcast is still gaining customer relationships, and it has the tools to battle back.
What can Comcast do?
Cord-cutting isn't about leaving the content offered by cable behind, it's about spending money. Because Comcast has been largely holding onto its customer base, it has not made major efforts art offering skinny bundles aside from some tests on college campuses and recent tests of a stripped-down offer in some markets.
Skinny bundles are offers where consumers pay less for a smaller package of channels. Cable companies would obviously prefer not to offer them, but they remain a tool Comcast could use to market to its millions of broadband users not paying for any sort of cable.
In addition to going skinny, Comcast also owns a significant amount of content through NBC, its movie division, and through its regional sports networks. The company could also leverage those assets on a digital a-la-carte basis.
Comcast has built a business designed to weather losing some cable customers. Its growth in broadband more than covers those losses, and eventually, when the numbers make sense, it will sacrifice some revenue-per-customer to add pay-TV subscribers back by offering skinny bundles.
Cord-cutting may stabilize, or it may start to pick up speed. Whichever direction it goes in, Comcast has the tools to continue to grow its business, even if that means a changing business model.