Solid growth in content licensing and theme parks at NBCUniversal and gains in video and high-speed data subscribers on the cable side led Comcast Corp. to edge past analysts’ expectations for its fourth quarter earnings.
Comcast reported fourth-quarter adjusted earnings per share of 89 cents while Wall Street had been expecting 87 cents per share. That marked a 9.9% gain from the year-ago quarter.
Comcast reported revenue of $21 billion for the quarter, up 9%, and operating income of $4.26 billion, up 6.6%. NBCUniversal delivered revenue of $8.5 billion, up 10.5%, and operating cash flow of $1.77 billion, up 7.8%.
Comcast chairman-CEO Brian Roberts hailed the gains in cable and NBCUniversal for the quarter and the full year.
In the fourth quarter, Comcast said it had net video subscriber additions of 80,000 while high-speed data customers increased by 385,000. That continues Comcast’s run of net subscriber gains on the cable side
“Our performance at Comcast Cable was exceptionally strong. We grew operating cash flow 5.6%, added 161,000 video subscribers, the best video customer results in a decade, and delivered our best high-speed Internet customer results in nine years,” Roberts said. “NBCUniversal also had a terrific year, fueled by the tremendous success of the Olympics, the opening of new attractions at our theme parks, and strong theatrical performances, particularly in animation. The consistency and strength of our results enables us to announce that we are increasing our dividend by 15% per share, we will split our stock two-for-one, the twelfth split in our company’s history, and we expect to repurchase $5 billion of our stock this year.”
Content licensing at NBCUniversal’s cable, broadcast and film units was a big contributor to the quarter. NBCU acknowledged that subscriber levels for its cable networks dropped even as distribution revenue increased 4.7% for the quarter. But content licensing was up 14.6% for the quarter. Overall, cable network revenue grew 4% to $2.5 billion for the quarter and while operating cash flow grew 2.4% to $916 million.
At NBC, the debut of “Thursday Night Football” on the Peacock drove advertising gains of 12.4%. Distribution revenue thanks to retransmission consent deals was up 14.1% while content licensing spiked 20.2%. Revenue overall for the broadcast unit hit $2.8 billion (up 14%) with operating cash flow climbing 21.1% to $264 million.
On the film side, tough comparisons to Universal’s blockbuster 2015 performance led to a 15.3% decrease in operating cash flow to $121 million. The inclusion of DreamWorks Animation and the success of “Sing” helped grow total revenue for the unit by 12.6% to $1.8 billion.
Universal Studios’ theme parks got a big boost from the opening of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter attraction at Universal Studios Hollywood. Revenue was up 13.2% to $1.3 billion. Operating cash flow grew 18.4% to $640 million.