Comcast profit beats; Olympics seen at break-even
(Reuters) - Comcast Corp (CMCSA.O) posted a higher-than-expected profit on Wednesday as an increase in Internet and phone customers offset weakness at its NBC Universal unit, and executives said the company no longer expected to lose money on its expensive Olympics 2012 coverage.
"We think London is going to be right around break-even, and there was a time when we thought London would be as negative as $200 million," said NBC Universal Chief Executive Steve Burke on a call with investors. "We are way ahead of where we thought we would be."
Shares of Comcast, the largest U.S. cable TV operator, rose as much as 4.6 percent after the comments.
"Investors now have less reason to wait till the third-quarter results to see what kind of loss they presumed they were going to generate," said Canaccord Genuity analyst Thomas Eagan. "They're now trying to buy ahead."
Comcast Chief Executive Officer Brian Roberts himself has made a strong commitment to the Olympics as a flagship brand to keep with NBC, the famed "Peacock" broadcast network, and the company's cable channels.
Last year, Roberts led the team to bid for rights to the next four games through 2020. Burke said that given the trends, NBCU has a chance of making money on future Olympics.
For this year, NBC Universal has made every Olympics event available live online for sports fans who are pay-TV subscribers.
But there has been some controversy, particularly because of delayed showings of some of the most popular Olympics events until prime time. This has led some fans to circumvent the NBCU broadcasts to seek out feeds from other countries online.
Comcast added 156,000 high-speed Internet subscribers and 158,000 phone customers during the second quarter.
Analysts at Canaccord Genuity had expected additions of just 97,000 Internet subscribers and 143,000 phone customers.
Comcast's video subscriber base continued to shrink, though at a slower rate than in recent quarters. It lost 176,000 subscribers during the quarter.
"The cable business looks like a perfect place for investors to hide right now," said Bernstein Research analyst Craig Moffett. "It's stable, defensive, and still very attractively valued."
Revenue at NBC Universal dipped 0.8 percent to $5.50 billion, and operating cash flow dropped 15.4 percent.
At the struggling NBC broadcast business, revenue fell 9 percent from a year earlier, when it received advance licensing fees from Netflix Inc (NFLX.O) for TV shows like "Law & Order."
The Universal Studios business had negative cash flow of $83 million, which it blamed on the expensive movie flop "Battleship."
Revenue from Comcast's cable networks, which include Bravo, CNBC and MSNBC, rose 3.6 percent to $2.25 billion.
Second-quarter net income rose to $1.35 billion, or 50 cents a share, from $1.02 billion, or 37 cents a share, a year earlier.
Analysts had on average expected a profit of 48 cents a share, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.
Revenue rose by 6.1 percent to $15.21 billion.
Shares of Comcast were up 3.5 percent at $33.64 in morning trading after rising as high as $34.00.
Comcast took a 51 percent controlling stake in NBC Universal in January 2011, and several longtime cable analysts have been uncertain of the acquisition's impact on the cable company's results.
"It's not a huge part of the Comcast story," said Moffett, "but it certainly begs the question of whether Comcast would have been better off to stick to its knitting in a cable core that, for now at least, simply looks like a better business."
(Reporting by Yinka Adegoke in New York; Editing by Gerald E. McCormick and Lisa Von Ahn)
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