Subs buoy Comcast

Cabler adds aud in Q1, posts $297 mil loss

NEW YORK — Cable behemoth Comcast reversed some serious subscriber erosion, adding 57,000 basic subs in the first quarter, en route to posting a loss of $297 million on consolidated cable and programming revenues that were up nearly 10% on an adjusted basis to $5.52 billion.

Comcast has made short order of turning its poorly performing AT&T Broadband systems into net gainers by reversing the basic churn at those systems to grow their basic sub base by 43,000, compared with a combined loss of 139,000 subs in 2002. The company expects to add an additional 75,000 to 100,000 for 2003.

Like other cablers reporting Q1 results this week, high-speed cable modem service was the big seller, with Comcast adding 417,000 high-speed customers through March 31. It expects to tally 1.6 million net adds this year, 33% higher than its original forecast for 2003.

By contrast, the company gained only 168,500 digital vid subs, possibly due to reduced marketing spend. The company expects to pick up the pace as it rolls out its video-on-demand service, currently available to 11 million households.

The larger-than-expected loss for the quarter was thanks in part to $953 million in upgrade costs as Comcast spruced up 12,200 miles of cable. Eighty-six percent of the cabler’s cable is now upgraded for digital TV and 80% for broadband. Cable’s massive footprint counts 21.3 million U.S. subs overall.

QVC, which is being appraised for purchase (or sale) by co-owner Liberty Media, posted numbers slightly lower than Wall Street was expecting. The TV shopping net grew revenues by 7.5% to $1.06 billion for the quarter, with operating income of $180 million, compared with $165 million in the same period last year.

Comcast also said its debt load stands at $27.2 billion, thanks to $2 billion in cash proceeds from the restructuring of Time Warner Entertainment. CEO Brian Roberts said Comcast is sitting on $1.5 billion in AOL Time Warner stock, which many believe it will liquidate shortly, and a 21% stake in Time Warner Cable. The latter is expected to be floated in an IPO in late 2003.

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