Comcast CEO: We Have Fewer Subscribers Than Netflix, Even After Time Warner Deal

Despite subscriber count, Comcast still posted revenue of $5.18 billion in Q1, nearly five times that of Netflix

Comcast CEO Brian Roberts Time Warner
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Comcast continues to paint Netflix as a competitor, as the cable giant keeps trying to make the case that it needs to swallow Time Warner Cable to have a presence on a national scale — and compete with what it portrays as surging digital-video rivals.

Comcast chairman-CEO Brian Roberts, speaking on a panel at the Cable Show, said that with the TW Cable acquisition and subsequent spinoff of systems to Charter Communications, Comcast will add a net 7 million customers. That would give Comcast about 30 million video subscribers — and Roberts noted that Netflix now has more than 35 million U.S. subscribers.

The merger will give “the industry a better opportunity to have a footprint regionally and hopefully nationally,” Roberts said.

In reality, Comcast and Netflix aren’t really directly competitive: They offer different kinds of content, and Netflix is not a replacement for the broad programming available on pay TV. Comcast does offer a Netflix-like streaming service, Streampix, but that’s bundled with TV and has a much smaller content lineup.

In addition, Comcast’s video biz is far larger in dollar terms. Comcast posted $5.18 billion in video revenue for the first quarter of 2014, whereas Netflix generated $1.27 billion.

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That hasn’t stopped Comcast from describing Netflix and others as looming threats to its pay-TV business. In its public-interest filing last month with the FCC, the MSO cited Netflix, Google’s YouTube, Apple iTunes and Amazon, which currently offers a streaming video service and just announced the Fire TV set-top as potential rivals.

“In the evolving video marketplace in which these companies have thrived, there is no reason why a cable company should be limited in evolving as well, especially one that has time and again demonstrated its willingness to meet and enhance competition through innovation and investment,” Comcast, together with Time Warner Cable, said in the FCC filing. “Added scale will make that innovation go faster and that investment go farther.”

With the explosion of video-capable devices, Comcast has accelerated its technology development to deliver more TV content to more screens, Roberts said. The operator now streams more than 50 live channels to devices outside the home and offers 25,000 video-on-demand choices on multiple platforms. “We couldn’t do that 24 months ago, or even 12 months ago,” he said.

Meanwhile, Comcast and Netflix have sparred in the public-policy arena, engaging in a war of words about fees the MSO is charging for higher-speed to deliver access to Internet video.

Netflix — reluctantly, it says — inked an agreement with Comcast in February, under which Netflix is paying for guaranteed access to bandwidth to the operator’s broadband customers. Netflix CEO and founder Reed Hastings has complained that big ISPs are extracting a “toll” from Netflix because they have leverage in the market, and the streaming-video company is opposing Comcast’s takeover bid for Time Warner Cable, saying the resulting entity would give it unprecedented control over broadband.

Comcast has responded that Netflix is seeking to “shift costs that it has always borne to all users of the Internet and not just to Netflix customers,” and that its interconnection deal with Netflix is no different from similar agreements that it has with many other companies.