Comcast Beats Q4 Expectations, Significantly Cuts Cable Customer Losses

Company increases dividend, announces repurchase plan

Comcast shares were up more than 5 percent in early trading Wednesday after the company beat Wall Street earnings forecasts, reported that it had significantly cut cable customer losses, and announced a dividend increase and $6.5 billion share repurchase plan.

The country's largest cable company lost 17,000 video customers in the fourth quarter, down from 135,000 subscribers in the same quarter in 2010. It also decreased cable losses for the year by nearly 40 percent over 2010. The company also added 1.2 million high-speed Internet customers.

Comcast announced it would increase its dividend 44 percent to $0.65 per share on an annualized basis and said that its Board of Directors had authorized a $6.5 billion stock repurchase program, with $3 billion in repurchasing planned for 2012.

The company reported net income of $1.29 billion, or 47 cents per share, for the quarter, up 26 percent from $1.02 billion, or 36 cents per share, in the fourth quarter of 2010. Analysts had forecast earnings of 41 cents per share.

As of 9:45 a.m. ET Wednesday, Comcast shares were up 5.17 percent to $28.66.

For the fourth quarter of 2011, Comcast's cable revenue increased 4.7 percent to $9.5 billion, thanks to a 10.1 percent increase in high-speed internet revenue and a 36.8 percent increase in business services revenue. Advertising revenue fell 9.3 percent due to lower political advertising in the fourth quarter of 2011. Monthly average total revenue per video customer climbed 7.1 percent to $141.24, a reflection of customers buying multiple services, rate adjustments, and a higher contribution from business services.

For the year, cable revenue increased climbed 5.3 percent to $37.2 billion, reflecting a 9.8 percent increase in high-speed internet revenue and a 41.4 percent increase in business services revenue.

For the quarter, NBCUniversal revenue was up 0.8 percent to $5.7 billion. Excluding accounting revisions and costs related to Comcast's acquisition of NBCU, operating cash flow decreased 3.9 percent.

For the year, NBCU revenue was up 3.7 percent to $21.1 billion. Excluding the impact of the Vancouver Olympics in 2010, revenue increased 7.8 percent, the company said. Not including costs related to the Olympics and Comcast's acquisition of NBCU, NBCUniversal's operating cash flow increased 5.2 percent to $4.1 billion.

NBC's revenues fell 3.7 percent to $1.8 billion. The company attributed the loss to higher spending on primetime shows, lower ratings, fewer political ads, and fewer business days in the quarter than in 2010.

In the company's earnings conference call, Comcast CEO Brian L. Roberts heralded NBC's record-breaking viewership for the Super Bowl and the successful launch of "The Voice"'s second season after the game. He also said NBCU had successfully used cable outlets to promote the new NBC show "Smash" — midnight encores of the premiere aired on severeal NBCU cable network — and that Comcast was also able to help promote the show, noting that it generated 20 percent higher ratings among Comcast customers.

Filmed entertainment was also slightly down, falling 1.8 percent to $1.27 billion, primarily because of lower home entertainment and other revenue. It was partially offset by higher content licensing revenue.

But cable networks, which account for the most NBCU revenue, were up 5.3 percent to $2.21 billion, thanks to a 10.4 percent increase in distribution revenue and 2 percent increase in advertising revenue. And theme park revenue climbed 4 percent to $498 million., driven by higher per capita spending at the Universal Orlando and Universal Hollywood parks, the company said.