UPDATE 5-Comcast goes for premium customers; revenue climbs

Wed Oct 27, 2010 4:56pm EDT

* Q3 EPS 31 cents vs 33 cents year ago

* Rev up 7.3 pct to $9.49 bln; Street view $9.36 bln

* Loses 275,000 basic video customers

* Adds 249,000 Internet subs, 228,000 phone subs

* Shares close up 3.2 percent (Adds closing share price)

By Paul Thomasch

NEW YORK, Oct 27 (Reuters) - Comcast Corp (CMCSA.O) reported better-than-expected earnings and revenue for the third quarter, as customers signed up to more expensive packages of cable, voice and broadband service.

The largest U.S. cable company stuck with a strategy it has employed throughout the economic downturn: Concentrate on upgrading customers to more expensive combinations of services, such as broadband and cable, while not sweating the loss of subscribers who only paid for lower-end basic cable.

While it lost 275,000 basic video subscribers in the third quarter, the average revenue it earned for each video customer rose by more than 10 percent.

"For most cable operators, it's about upselling their existing base rather than trying to increase the number of overall customers," said Tom Eagan, an analyst with Collins Stewart. "They are willing to lose those customers that aren't taking double or triple play packages."

Shares of Comcast, which hopes to soon win regulatory approval to take control of NBC Universal, rose nearly 2 percent after its quarterly earnings report. The stock is up about 17 percent this year.

Still, the loss of some 275,000 basic video customers is significant. It is almost twice as many as Comcast lost a year ago, and leaves it with slightly under 23 million video customers.

The losses were also more than most analysts expected. David Joyce of Miller Tabak, for instance, estimated losses of 221,000 and Todd Mitchell of Kaufman Brothers had the figured pegged at a loss of 150,000.

NBC DEAL RUNNING ON SCHEDULE

Stiff competition from satellite and telecommunication company rivals, such as DirecTV (DTV.O) or AT&T Inc (T.N), is partly to blame, making it more difficult to keep existing customers, or add new ones.

But Comcast Chief Executive Brian Roberts said the key problem remains the "tough" economy and its one-two punch of weak housing and high unemployment, both factors that play a big role in canceling cable service.

Roberts added, however, that the company had seen a "real year-over-year" improvement in subscriptions in recent weeks and also noted a growing number of broadband and voice subscribers. Comcast added 249,000 high-speed Internet customers and 228,000 voice customers in the quarter.

Overall, revenue climbed 7.3 percent to $9.49 billion in the third quarter. Net income slipped to $867 million, or 31 cents a share, from $944 million, or 33 cents a share, a year earlier.

Excluding costs related to the NBC Universal deal -- items such as fees for lawyers and bankers -- the company posted earnings of 32 cents a share. That surpassed the 30 cents a share analysts had expected, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.

Roberts, on the call, said the NBC Universal deal was on track to close this year. Once it does, Comcast would not only be delivering customers TV shows and movies; it would also be the company behind their production.

Terms call for Comcast to buy a majority stake from General Electric Co (GE.N), giving it control of the NBC TV network, plus a suite of cable channels, a movie studio and other entertainment assets.

Shares of Comcast closed up 63 cents, or 3.2 percent, at $20.27 on the Nasdaq. (Reporting by Paul Thomasch; Editing by Derek Caney, Gerald E. McCormick, Gary Hill)

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