UPDATE: The strong earnings boosted Comcast shares more than 5% in trading Wednesday.
PREVIOUSLY: Comcast’s fourth quarter earnings fell a penny shy of analysts’ expectations but revenue far exceeded projections, driven by big gains for the quarter and the year at Universal, theme park growth and its best cable video subscriber gains in eight years.
Comcast’s revenue for the quarter hit $19.2 billion, up 8.3% year-over-year. Net income rose slightly to $2.05 billion, from $1.99 billion in year-ago quarter. Earnings per share came in at 81 cents per share, just shy of the consensus estimate of 82 cents per share, but up 5.2% from the year-ago quarter.
NBCUniversal had what was billed as a record quarter with revenue climbing 13% to $7.47 billion and operating cash flow rising 8.7% to $1.55 billion. Filmed entertainment segment saw a 25.8% gain in revenue to $1.62 billion and operating cash flow of $143 million, up 84.6%.
Theme parks saw a 38.6% rise in revenue to $1.0 billion, thanks to the inclusion of Universal Studios Japan, which was acquired in full by Comcast in November, and the success of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter attraction in Orlando and and Fast and Furious: Supercharged attraction in Hollywood. Operating cash flow jumped 36.6% to $452 million.
The picture was not as bright for NBCU’s cable group and NBC broadcast network. Cable networks saw revenue grow 3.4% to $2.4 billion but operating cash flow decline 1.9% to $894 million. Broadcast operating cash flow declined 5.6% to $217 million on high costs and expenses, even with solid gains in advertising sales (up 7% for the quarter), content licensing fees (34.9%) and retransmission consent revenue.
Retrans is a double-edged sword for Comcast given its components. On the cable systems side, higher retrans costs to local TV stations contributed to programming expense gain for the full year of 7.1%, and CFO Michael Cavanaugh noted that programming costs will be up 10% in 2016 because of contractual rate hikes kicking in. But on the broadcast side of NBCUniversal, which owns 28 NBC and Telemundo-affiilated stations, retrans fees jumped 40% in the quarter to $136 million. For the full year, retrans reached $535 million. Cavanaugh said it would jump again this year to $800 million.
Comcast’s cable systems registered surprising growth in video and broadband customers while customer churn rates were down for the 23rd consecutive quarter. Cavanaugh noted that most of its new video customers are taking high-end packages. The company added 1.4 million broadband customers for the year. For the quarter video customer net additions were 89,000; broadband net gains of 460,000 were the best result for a fourth quarter in nine years.
Cable revenue for the quarter was up 5.9% to $12 billion; operating cash flow climbed 4.6% to $4.9 billion.
The company raised its dividend 10% to $1.10 per share and said the board had authorized another $10 billion in stock buybacks, $5 billion of which will be spent this year.
“I am exceptionally proud of our results this year, which were driven by strong performances in each of our core businesses,” Comcast chairman-CEO Brian Roberts said. “At Comcast Cable, our focus on delivering the most innovative products and improving the customer experience led to fantastic operating metrics, including our best video customer results in nine years, and our best high-speedInternet customer results in eight years. NBCUniversal had a remarkable year, with record-breaking results at both Theme Parks and Film, and continued success at NBC, which was number one in primetime for the second consecutive season. As we enter 2016, the momentum we see across our portfolio is truly exciting. We are executing at the highest level, investing prudently, and energized and focused on driving growth and shareholder value. Underscoring our confidence in our company, we are increasing our dividend by 10% to$1.10 per share and we also plan to repurchase $5.0 billion of our stock this year.”