Comcast's 1Q earnings rise 30% on Super Bowl advertising, more broadband

NEW YORK, N.Y. – Comcast Corp., the country’s largest cable company, reported a 30 per cent profit increase in the first quarter, beating expectations on the strength of Super Bowl advertising and its popular broadband service.

The Philadelphia-based cable company said Wednesday that its net income rose to $1.224 billion, or 45 cents per share, for the January to March period from $943 million, or 34 cents per share, a year ago.

Analysts polled by FactSet were expecting earnings of 42 cents per share for the latest quarter

Revenue rose to $14.9 billion, above analysts’ expectation of $14.4 billion. The increase was 9.6 per cent compared with the combined cable and NBC Universal results a year ago.

Comcast’s acquisition of a majority stake in NBC Universal, which owns TV channels and movie studios, closed at the end of January last year.

NBC Universal’s results shone in the quarter. It accounts for a third of Comcast’s revenue, but grew much faster, at 18 per cent from last year. Revenue at the NBC broadcast network grew 37 per cent thanks to the Super Bowl. Fox broadcast it last year.

Excluding the Super Bowl, NBC’s revenue grew 17 per cent, helped by improving prime-time ratings and shows like “The Voice” and “Smash.”

At Universal Studios, revenue grew 22 per cent on the theatrical success of “Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax” and “Safe House.”

Comcast’s more predictable cable business revenue grew at lower pace — 5.7 per cent from last year.

CEO Brian Roberts has suggested that Comcast might be able to reverse the long-standing industry-wide trend of cable-TV subscribers cancelling in favour of satellite and phone-company TV services, but that prospect was not in evidence in the first quarter: Comcast lost 37,000 cable subscribers, roughly the same number it lost in the same quarter last year.

“We believe we can continue to make steady progress” in retaining video subscribers, Roberts told analysts on a conference call Wednesday. As one of the improvements the company is making, he mentioned Streampix, a Netflix-like Internet video service that Comcast launched in February, only for its video customers. “A couple of million” of customers have access to it, he said.

Comcast added 439,000 Internet subscribers. That was the best quarterly result in four years. Meanwhile other cable companies report a slowdown in the recruitment of new subscribers, since most households already have broadband. Comcast appears to be gaining subscribers from households with slower phone-company “DSL” broadband.

Comcast shares fell 83 cents, or 2.7 per cent, to $29.77 in morning trading Wednesday. On Tuesday, the shares hit $30.88, the highest price in 12 years.