News Column

Comcast Says NBC Showing Signs of a Turnaround

October 29, 2012

Bob Fernandez


Riding the continued success of The Voice and Sunday Night Football, along with the added benefit of the surprise hit drama Revolution, four weeks into the new TV season NBC ranks No. 1 in prime-time Nielsen ratings in the 18- to 49-year-old demographic and could be showing nascent signs of a turnaround, Comcast Corp. executives told Wall Street analysts Friday.

The broadcast network also generated about $1.2 billion in revenue from the London Olympics this summer and broke even financially on the games. Brian Roberts, Comcast's chief executive officer and chairman, said the London experience indicates that the Olympics can be profitable for the company. In June 2011, Roberts agreed to pay $4.4 billion so NBC could televise the summer and winter Olympics through 2020.

Comcast, of Philadelphia, disclosed the information on NBC as part of its third-quarter earnings, which showed that revenues jumped 15.4 percent to $16.5 billion, partly because of NBC's Olympics-related revenue.

Net income more than doubled, to $2.1 billion from the year-ago $908 million. Most of this year's gain was attributed to proceeds from the sale of Comcast's ownership stake in A&E Television Networks L.L.C. to the Walt Disney Co. and Hearst Corp., and the sale of wireless spectrum to Verizon Wireless.

While all eyes seem to be on NBC, Comcast's cable division lost 117,000 TV customers in the quarter, though it was an improvement over the 165,000 losses in the year-ago period and the eighth consecutive quarter of improving TV-customer metrics. The company added 287,000 high-speed Internet customers and 123,000 phone customers.

There is some expectation on Wall Street that Comcast could add cable-TV subscribers for the first time in years during the fourth quarter. Comcast executives did not commit, but also did not seem to dampen expectations.

Michael Angelakis, the company's chief financial officer and vice chairman, said Comcast had about $41 billion in debt and $11 billion in cash. About $6 billion of the cash was part of NBCUniversal, which Comcast owns with General Electric. Comcast eventually could use the $6 billion to purchase GE's 49 percent stake in NBCUniversal and boost its ownership to 100 percent.

Wall Street reacted positively, sending Comcast's market capitalization Friday to slightly above $100 billion. The cable company's shares closed up $1.20, or 3.3 percent, at $37.56. They have gained 79 percent since late November 2011.

Fears of how Netflix and other over-the-top Internet entertainment providers could wreck Comcast's subscription-TV business have eased in the last year.

Investors also have applauded Comcast's cash dividend and reacted favorably to the cable giant's decision to form a business partnership with Verizon Wireless instead of acquiring Sprint or another wireless company.

Source: (c) 2012 The Philadelphia Inquirer. Distributed by MCT Information Services

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