Company adds video subscribers; tax gain buoys fourth quarter

Media giant Comcast Corp. said fourth-quarter net income rose 26% as the company increased the number of subscribers using its video and broadband services and its large NBCUniversal unit showed improved performance across the board.

The Philadelphia company said net income in the fourth quarter rose 26% to about $1.91 billion, or 72 cents a share, compared with about $1.52 billion, or 56 cents a share in the year-earlier period. Comcast enjoyed a one-time tax gain of $158 million in the period, which helped results

Excluding the tax gain, earnings per share came to 66 cents. Analysts had expected the company to post 68 cents per share for the fourth quarter.

Comcast said revenue increased in the fourth quarter to about $16.9 billion, compared with $15.9 billion a year earlier.

At the company’s subscriber-based operations, fourth-quarter revenue rose 5.2% to $10.7 billion, compared with $10.1 billion in the fourth quarter of 2012. Comcast cited  increases of 8.7% in high-speed Internet, 25.3% in business services and 2.3% in video as factors rose the rise, noting the performance was partially offset by a 7.5% decline in advertising due to lower political advertising revenue. Comcast also cited increase in rates, more customers and customers taking higher levels of service.

Indeed. Comcast said it added 43,000 video subscribers during the quarter – a difficult-to-achieve measure, given increases in consumers actively avoiding cable subscriptions given increases in availability of video programming from broadband-based suppliers like Netflix or Hulu. The video-subscriber growth marks the first the company has experienced in several years. Comcast said combined video, high-speed Internet and voice customers increased by 649,000 in the fourth quarter of 2013, a 29% increase in net additions compared to the year-earlier period.

Revenue for NBCUniversal increased 7.5% to $6.5 billion in the fourth quarter,  compared with $6 billion in the year-earlier period.

Revenue from the NBCU cable networks rose  5.3% to $2.3 billion, compared with $2.2 billion in the year-earlier period. Comcast cited  a 7.8% increase in distribution revenue and a 4.3% increase in advertising revenue, but said those increases were partially offset by a 4.6% decline in content licensing and other revenue.

Revenue from the broadcast television segment increased 11.5% to $2.2 billion compared with $2.0 billion in the fourth quarter of 2012. Comcast cited an 8.3% increase in advertising revenue due to strong primetime ratings at the NBC broadcast network, as well as higher retransmission consent fees and an increase in content licensing revenue.

Revenue from NBCU’s film unit  increased 4.9% to $1.4 billion, compared with about $1.38 billion in the year-earlier period. Results were  driven by higher home entertainment revenue from the performance of “Despicable Me 2,” despite a  decrease in theatrical revenue.

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