Oft-maligned communications and media conglomerate Comcast (NASDAQ:CMCSA) recently reported third-quarter 2021 results, and another giant decline in cable TV subscribers captured headlines. 408,000 households cut the cord during the last quarter alone. That's a big number, even for Comcast.  

But here's the thing: While the cable empire is milking traditional TV for everything it's worth right now, declining subscriber count doesn't really matter in the grand scheme of things. Comcast's overall customer relationships are still on the rise.

Two people sitting on a couch watching TV.

Image source: Getty Images.

Still winning in cable

Streaming TV has rewritten the script for the entertainment industry. It was Netflix that got the ball rolling, but now, myriad internet-based subscription TV services have crowded the market. They're easy to turn off and on, and affordably priced. Researcher eMarketer is estimating well over 80% of U.S. households will subscribe to an internet-based streaming service this year. Over 40% of total homes paying for a TV service may have no traditional cable package anymore.

For Comcast, this has meant evaporating cable TV relationships. The company reported having just over 18.5 million video subscribers at the end of the third quarter of 2021, down dramatically from 20.1 million in the same period last year and 21.4 million the year prior -- not exactly an encouraging trend for shareholders.

Comcast is far from being in trouble, though. While the number of cable TV subscribers continues to deteriorate, it's important to remember direct payment for TV access isn't the only way cable companies make money. Advertising is a big business, and much like some of its younger internet service and media company peers, Comcast bankrolls a great deal of coin on ads. In fact, cable video revenue actually increased 1.4% year over year during the quarter to $5.5 billion as a result of higher cable rates passed on to remaining customers, as well as various advertising revenue streams Comcast called out specifically that increased 4.6% year over year to $705 million.  

Plus, there's a lot more to Comcast's "cable communications" segment than just the primary screen in Americans' living rooms. Broadband internet is actually the company's bread-and-butter, and that business line is still growing. So is wireless, which Comcast licenses from Verizon's network and brands primarily to existing customers as Xfinity Mobile. In total, Comcast's cable segment revenue increased 7.4% year over year to $16.1 billion -- not bad for a business that is supposedly being "decimated" by the streaming industry.  

Comcast Cable Segment

Number of Relationships

YoY Increase (Decrease)

Broadband

31.7 million

5.5%

Video

18.5 million

(7.7%)

Voice

10.6 million

(3.6%)

Wireless

3.7 million

42.2%

Total customer relationships*

34.0 million

4.2%

Total relationships include households that have multiple Comcast services. Data source: Comcast.  

Modern media is on the rise

In addition to a solid communications business, Comcast's NBCUniversal is doing just fine as well. Media rebounded nearly 48% year over year (or 9.2% when excluding $1.8 billion in one-time revenue generated from the Tokyo Summer Olympics) to $6.8 billion. Theme parks also went from barely operational last summer to generating an actual profit this year.

In total, NBCU hauled in $10 billion in sales in the third quarter (up 58% year over year) -- including $230 million from the company's Peacock streaming service. Peacock generated just $41 million in the year-ago quarter after making its summer 2020 debut.  

As of this writing, Comcast trades for just 16 times trailing-12-month free cash flow. It's a value stock. This is not a company that will put up any headline-captivating growth figures, but it's far from being in decline as the sun starts to slowly set on the cable TV industry. Comcast has other cards up its sleeve. If steady income and gradual growth over time is what you're after, Comcast is still worth a look.

This article represents the opinion of the writer, who may disagree with the “official” recommendation position of a Motley Fool premium advisory service. We’re motley! Questioning an investing thesis -- even one of our own -- helps us all think critically about investing and make decisions that help us become smarter, happier, and richer.