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Comcast Posts Slight Miss, Holds Most Cable Customers Since 2007

By Daniel B. Kline - Feb 4, 2016 at 2:19PM

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The biggest challenge heading into 2016 might be matching some of its 2015 success.

Comcast (CMCSA -1.76%) slightly missed analysts expectations in Q4, but it's hard to be too disappointed given the company's success in fighting off cord cutting.

The cable giant, which also owns NBC, Universal Studios, and a number of other properties, posted $19.25 billion in revenue, up from $17.73 billion in the same quarter in 2014, an 8.6% increase. Earnings were reported Feb. 3. Earnings per share came in at $0.79, or $0.81 when adjusted for non-recurring costs. The average estimate of 19 analysts surveyed by Zacks Investment Research was for earnings of $0.82 per share, The Associated Press reported.

Despite the slight miss, investors should still be pretty happy with the fact that the company's core cable business showed surprising strength. Comcast said in its earnings release that it added 89,000 customers in Q4, its best fourth quarter in eight years. Over all of 2015, Comcast only lost 36,000 pay-television customers -- its best result since 2007. In addition, revenue for the cable division, which includes broadband and other services, increased 6.2% to $46.9 billion compared to $44.1 billion in 2014, largely due to growth in broadband.

"At Comcast Cable, our focus on delivering the most innovative products and improving the customer experience led to fantastic operating metrics, including our best video customer results in nine years, and our best high-speed Internet customer results in eight years," said CEO Brian Roberts in the earnings release.

Source: Comcast

Some perspective on the cable numbers
Comcast's cable numbers are more impressive because the company spent the early part of its year trying to win Federal Communications Commission approval of its merger with Time Warner Cable (NYSE: TWC). That proposed deal was dropped in April after it became clear that regulators were not going to allow it to move forward, but both before and after, Comcast remained focused on preserving its cable business.

Going into Q4, the pay-television industry had lost about 650,000 customers, according to Leichtman Research Group (LRG). That's about a 0.69% drop for the roughly 94 million-subscriber cable universe. Comcast's loss was only about 0.16%, but it's possible the company won't be the only one that did well in Q4.

To put the company's treading water in pay TV into perspective TWC, which is about half Comcast's size on a cable subscriber basis, gained 54,000 cable customers in Q4 and gained 32,000 for the full year. With the other major cable players still yet to report, it's hard to know if Comcast and Time Warner Cable are bucking a trend, or if cord cutting has simply slowed down.

It's not just cable
Comcast is of course more than just a cable company.

  • Revenue for NBCUniversal increased 13% to $7.5 billion in Q4, up from $6.6 billion in the fourth quarter of 2014. For thefull year, the division saw an increase of 11.9% to $28.5 billion compared to $25.4 billion in 2014.
  • In theme parks, the company saw a Q4 increase of 38.6% to $1 billion and for the full-year revenue from the theme parks segment increased 27.3% to $3.3 billion compared to $2.6 billion in 2014. These numbers were driven by Orlando's Wizarding World of Harry Potter, Hollywood's Fast and Furious: Supercharged, as well as Halloween Horror Nights at both parks.
  • The company's movie division had a spectacular year driven by films including Jurassic World,  Minions, and Furious 7. Q4 revenue jumped 25.8% to $1.6 billion, compared to $1.3 billion in the fourth quarter of 2014. For the full year the movie division increased 45.5% to $7.3 billion compared to $5 billion in 2014.
  • Even broadcast television had a good quarter and a decent year, climbing 7% in Q4 revenue from $2.3 billion to $2.5 billion while the full-year numbers -- after excluding $376 million of revenue generated by the NFL's Super Bowl in the first quarter of 2015, as well as $846 million of revenue generated by the 2014 Sochi Olympics -- increased by 6%.

"NBCUniversal had a remarkable year, with record-breaking results at both Theme Parks and Film, and continued success at NBC, which was number one in primetime for the second consecutive season," said Roberts.

It was a success all around
The biggest challenge for Comcast going forward is going to be maintaining these numbers. Cable, while it has battled valiantly against cord cutting, should eventually feel the sting of either keeping customers by offering cheaper packages or losing them to cord cutting. In addition, the film division, which had a record year, will have trouble equaling it in 2016 despite having a strong slate of movies.

In cable, the company will also likely face new competition assuming Time Warner Cable's latest merger attempt (with Charter) gets approved, and even the theme park division has tough comparisons (but will also add a Harry Potter land in California, which should help). It was a strong quarter and a strong year for Comcast, but 2016 represents a challenge both because of the challenging 2015 comparisons it will face and industry headwinds it will continue to battle.

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