Comcast surely hasn’t slayed the cord-cutting beast. But chairman and CEO Brian Roberts touted a historic reversal for the nation’s No. 1 cable company: In the last three months of 2013, it actually signed up more TV subscribers than it lost.
After 26 straight quarters of losing video customers, largely to satellite and telco competitors, Comcast in the fourth quarter “modestly grew video customers,” said Roberts, speaking Tuesday at the Citi 2014 Internet, Media and Telecommunications Conference in Las Vegas. “It is a real beginning of an exciting reversal of trends.”
However, whether it’s a singular hiccup or a longer-lasting change for Comcast’s video business remains to be seen. The company will provide specifics when it reports fourth quarter 2013 results, scheduled for Jan. 28.
The last time Comcast reported a net gain in cable TV customers was the first quarter of 2007. In the third quarter of 2013, it dropped 129,00 video subscribers, to stand at 21.6 million. That’s after losing 159,000 in Q2 and 60,000 in Q1.
Roberts chalked up the Q4 net gain to investments Comcast has made in digital video technology, TV Everywhere and the new X1 next-generation guide and set-top box, as well as customer service operations. The cable company plans to accelerate the rollout of X1 — and the follow-on X2 platform — to reach more than half its footprint within the next several years, he said.
Comcast has about 1 million X1 users and “the vast majority think the experience is vastly better,” Roberts said, resulting in lower churn among those subs. He also called out the Xfinity TV Go out-of-home streaming app, launched last fall, which provides 35 live channels on Apple iOS and Google Android devices.
Roberts also was asked about Comcast’s possible interest in Time Warner Cable, which has been the object of M&A chatter. John Malone’s Liberty Media, together with Charter Communications, is reportedly gearing up to make a bid for TW Cable and Comcast has exploring its options as well. Roberts responded that “there’s no news today,” adding, “We have taken a lot of years building Comcast. We have great scale. It’s nice to see people talking about cable and its future.”