Comcast Sees Q4 Profit Rise 26% On Digital Subscriber Growth

Comcast said net income in the fourth quarter rose 26% due in large part to increases in the number of subscribers to its digital services, even as it continued to lose traditional pay-TV subscribers and NBCUniversal’s “Cats” movie failed to do bigger business at the box office.

The owner of the Comcast cable empire and NBCU said profit in the fourth quarter came to $3.16 billion, or 68 cents a share, compared with $2.51 billion, or 55 cents a share, in the year-earlier period.

In prepared remarks, Comcast CEO Brian Roberts said the company intended to continue working to establish itself in digital venues, including Peacock, a soon-to-launch streaming-video service from NBCUniversal.

The company said revenue at its large cable operations rose 2.6% to $14.8 billion, largely due to increases in people taking up subscriptions to high-speed internet, and business services. But advertising revenue fell 19.1%, owing to shortfalls in spending by political advertisers. Video revenue decreased 1.2%, owing to a loss of e number of residential video customers.

Revenue at  NBCUniversal fell 2.6% to $9.2 billion, largely due to a shortfall in the unit’s filmed entertainment division, which offered “Cats’ in the quarter. In the year-earlier period, the company’s movies included “Halloween” and “Dr. Seuss’The Grinch.”  Filmed Entertainment revenue fell 21.0% to $1.6 billion. But the company’s other operations – cable, broadcast TV and theme parks – all saw revenue increases.

Comast is pushing forward into new ventures, including a global news operation that will be distributed via cable, satellite and broadband, and a new streaming-video service, called Peacock, that is expected to be supported by advertising.

On the quarterly earnings call, Roberts made a point of saluting outgoing NBCUniversal chairman Steve Burke, who is set to retire in August after nine years at the helm. NBCUniversal has been under scrutiny during the past few years amid the Matt Lauer sexual misconduct scandal at NBC News, and some have criticized Burke for the company’s handling of the situation. But Roberts did not spare his praise.

“It’s impossible for me to overstate what a terrific partner Steve has been,” Roberts said, noting that the ABC alum joined Comcast in 1998 as head of its cable arm and steered its expansion as a studio with the 2011 acquisition of NBCUniversal.

Burke’s leadership over the years “has been a critical component of a our company’s growth and success,” Roberts said. “Maybe even more significantly, his impact on our culture and his personal integrity has been truly defining” for Comcast and NBCUniversal, he said.

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