Universal’s box office revenue fell 87.7% year over year during the first quarter of 2021, a steep decline primarily driven by the deferral of theatrical releases as a result of movie theater remaining shuttered or operating at reduced capacity due to COVID-19, parent company Comcast reported in its Q1 earnings Thursday.
That is in comparison to Comcast’s Jan. 1-March 31, 2020 quarter, a time span during which the coronavirus pandemic was just beginning to affect movie theater closures around the world.
The Bob Odenkirk film “Nobody,” which came out March 26, was the studio’s only movie that had a partial theatrical release during Q1 2021.
Still, Comcast outperformed analysts’ estimates for both its Q1 2021 earnings and revenue.
Wall Street forecast earnings per share (EPS) of 58 cents on $26.7 billion in revenue, according to a consensus compiled by Yahoo Finance. Comcast reported adjusted EPS of 76 cents on $27.2 billion in revenue for the quarter ended March 31.
The reported overall revenue figure was up 2.2% from the prior first quarter. Net income increased 55.1%.
In other good news, Comcast reported that its fledgling streaming service Peacock has now hit 42 million sign-ups in its first quarter as home to “The Office” and WWE Network programming.
Comcast’s cable-providing arm, which is the company’s largest business, saw revenue rise 5.9%. Comcast added 380,000 new customers in total, while losing 491,000 video customers. High-speed internet and wireless lines more than offset the cord-cutting of cable-TV packages.
Revenue from Comcast’s NBCUniversal, which includes its media, studio and theme park businesses, fell 9.1% year to year.
Per the company, revenue from NBCUniversal’s media arm — which includes cable networks, broadcast, TV stations and streaming service Peacock — increased 3.2% overall. Distribution revenue from this segment increased 9.1%, while its “Other” revenue increased 5.3%. But ad sales were down 3.4%, a drop Comcast attribute to ratings declines, which were partially offset by higher pricing and sports volume, as well as advertising revenue from Peacock, which had not yet launched in the same quarter a year ago.
Studio revenue, which includes NBCU’s film and television studio production and distribution operations, was down 0.6%. Theatrical revenue plummeted the above-mentioned 87.7%. Content licensing was up 14.1%, primarily due to a new licensing agreement for content that became exclusively available for streaming on Peacock during the quarter.
Revenue from Universal theme parks was down 33.1%, as Universal Orlando Resort and Universal Studios Japan operated at limited capacity due to COVID-19, while Universal Studios Hollywood remained closed. (It reopened on April 16.)
Sky revenue increased 10.6%, which Comcast says is due to higher direct-to-consumer revenue, advertising revenue and content revenue.
“We are off to a great start in 2021,” Comcast chairman and CEO Brian L. Roberts said Thursday in a prepared statement accompanying the financial results. “Our entire company performed well across the board, highlighted by another strong performance from cable, which posted its third consecutive quarter of double-digit Adjusted EBITDA growth, while adding the most quarterly customer relationships in our company’s history. Outside of cable, I was also very pleased by the persistent recovery and increasing momentum at NBCUniversal and Sky.”
He continued: “Our theme parks once again reached breakeven, excluding Universal Beijing Resort pre-opening costs; and – to the delight of our guests – we successfully re-opened Universal Studios Hollywood on April 16th. At Sky, customer relationship additions increased by 221,000, marking the best first quarter result in six years despite the lockdowns imposed throughout Europe. Across all parts of the company, our teams are executing at a high level and collaborating to drive growth and innovation, and I couldn’t be more excited about our future.”
Comcast stock closed Wednesday at $54.10 share. The regular U.S. stock markets will reopen at 9:30 a.m. ET.
Roberts and other Comcast executives will host a conference call at 8:30 a.m. ET to discuss the quarter in greater detail.