Brian Roberts: NBC, Harry Potter Ride Boost Comcast’s Q3 Profit

Cable and entertainment giant Comcast saw its third-quarter net income soar nearly 50%, thanks to a favorable tax adjustment and improving performance at its NBCUniversal unit.

The Philadelphia company, which is currently seeking approval from federal regulators to buy Time Warner Cable, said profit in the period came to $2.59 billion, or 99 cents a share, compared with $1.73 billion, or 65 cents a share, in the year-earlier period. Excluding a $724 million income-tax adjustment and items related to acquisitions, adjusted profit per share rose 12.3% to 73 cents. The company said revenue increased 4% to $16.79 billion.

In a conference call with investors, Comcast executives said improved ratings at NBC and consumer excitement over a new Harry Potter attraction at its Orlando theme park were the highlights of the quarter.

The company said video subscribers at its cable operations, which represent the bulk of its business, fell by 81,000, compared with a loss of 127,000 video customers in the previous quarter. Broadband subscribers, however, increased by 315,000, compared with an increase of 297,000 in the previous quarter. Voice customers increased by 68,000, compared with 169,000 in the previous period.

Overall, operating cash flow in the division increased 5.1% to $4.5 billion, compared with $4.2 billion in the third quarter of 2013, partially offset by a 5.3% increase in operating expenses primarily related to higher video programming costs, as well as an increase in advertising, marketing and promotion expenses. The operating cash flow margin for the quarter was 40.4%, compared to 40.5% in 2013.

At NBCUniversal, broadcast television assets appeared to carry the day, with advertising revenue on the rise thanks to improved ratings at the company’s flagship NBC broadcast outlet. Cable networks, meanwhile, saw ad revenue decline as ratings fell.

Operating cash flow increased $108 million to $142 million for broadcast, compared with $34 million in the third quarter of 2013, owing to higher revenue and a slight increase in operating costs and expenses. Operating cash flow for cable networks increased 1.8% to $868 million, compared with $853 million in the third quarter of 2013, owing to higher revenue and flat operating costs.

The company said it continues to expect its pending Time Warner Cable merger to be complete by “early 2015” even though regulators recently paused their review of the transaction.

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