Is There a Limit to Xfinity?
In the good old days of cable television, a headline such as this from engadget -- "Comcast slows the flood of video-customer losses in Q4 2011" -- would have evoked cries of despair from anguished investors. But it's a brave new cable world now, and what Comcast (NAS: CMCSA) accomplished, cutting losses that amounted to almost 450,000 for the first three quarters down to a mere 17,000 for the fourth quarter, is good news indeed.
This is even more significant given the industry-wide trend of customers replacing their cable TV programming with video content streamed into their homes over the Internet.
But the real good news should be not how less bad business is for Comcast; it should be how much better it has become. And it has gotten much better for the company's high-speed Internet operations, where it has added customers at a 15% higher rate than it did in the same quarter a year ago.
Another area where Comcast has managed to buck a negative industry trend is in the area of fixed-line phone service. Telecoms have been finding their wireline customers cutting the cord, so to speak, and opting for wireless phone service. Comcast has managed to add 146,000 digital voice subscribers.
All in all, the company's efforts in its cable business have added up to a net video, high-speed Internet, and voice customer gain for the quarter of 465,000 customers. This represents a customer increase of 12.3% over the same quarter last year. The yearly increase was 3%. The company has given its Xfinity brand much of the credit for the success here.
The biggest revenue gaining segments of Comcast's cable division came from high-speed Internet, with a 10.1% increase over Q4 2010, and business services at 36.8%. Advertising, however, took a 9.3% hit. This was blamed on -- really? -- lower political advertising revenue. That seems strange, as we seem to be seeing nothing but political advertising these days.
Over all, cable revenue for the quarter grew 4.7% over Q4 2010.
Wonder how the Comcast/NBC Universal deal has turned out this year? There were some good results, and some less so. First, the good: NBCU cable networks were solid revenue producers, with 5.3% revenue growth over the same quarter last year. Also in the plus column were the results obtained from the two theme parks that came along with Universal part of the deal. Those parks, Universal Orlando and Universal Hollywood (along with international licensing fees), brought in $498 million for the quarter, a 4% increase from the same quarter last year.
The down side of the accounting equation for NBCU came, first, from NBC having a less-than-stellar ratings season, which, with the commensurate drop in advertising revenue, accounted for a 3.7% revenue decrease, and second, from the NBCU filmed entertainment division's 1.8% drop in fourth-quarter revenues over 2010's Q4. Yearly revenue stayed even with last year despite two major hits -- Bridesmaids and Fast Five.
The big headline for Comcast came at the beginning of December when it, along with the other members of the SpectrumCo consortium -- Time Warner Cable (NYS: TWC) , and Brighthouse Networks -- sold their cache of unused wireless spectrum to Verizon (NYS: VZ) for $3.6 billion in cash and the rights to resell Verizon's wireless services. A quadruple-play bundle of services (wireline phone, wireless phone, TV, and high-speed Internet) could be added to Comcast's Xfinity menu.
This co-marketing agreement has already been rolled out in four markets, but whether it survives regulatory and Senate vetting remains to be seen. A group of companies, including Sprint Nextel (NYS: S) , T-Mobile, and DirecTV (NAS: DTV) , aren't making it easy for Comcast and Verizon, petitioning the Federal Communications Commission to make the full extent of their marketing arrangement public knowledge. The Senate Antitrust Subcommittee, chaired by Sen. Herb Kohl (D-Wis.), has called for a hearing on this matter. Remember what happened after Sen. Kohl got involved with the AT&T/T-Mobile merger?
Here's to good friends
I have to admit to a bit of a disconnect when I hear Xfinity and FiOS mentioned in the same sentence as buddies and not as antagonists. Maybe, though, that BFF display may need some further tweaking. Verizon has just announced that it is going to begin offering its FiOS TV and Internet service in Medford, MA. The FiOS main competitor in Medford: Xfinity. That's showbiz for you.
Earnings per share came in at $0.47 a share for the quarter, well above the analysts' estimate of an EPS of $0.42. Other good news from the company: the board authorized $6.5 billion in share buybacks, with $3 billion worth of shares to be repurchased in 2012. And for income lovers, the dividend will be increased 44% to $0.65 per share annually, bringing Comcast's yield into the S&P 500's average yield area.
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At the time this article was published Fool contributorDan Radovskyowns shares of AT&T. Try any of our Foolish newsletter servicesfree for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe thatconsidering a diverse range of insightsmakes us better investors. The Motley Fool has adisclosure policy.
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