* Q4 EPS 36 cents vs 33 cents year ago
* Rev up 7.2 pct to $9.72 bln; Street view $9.58 bln
* Adds 292,000 Internet subs, 257,000 phone subs
* Increases dividend, accelerates stock buying plan
* Shares up 3.3 percent
(Adds Cablevision results)
By Paul Thomasch
NEW YORK, Feb 16 Comcast Corp (CMCSA.O)
reported higher-than-expected quarterly earnings as it
benefited from surging ad sales and signed up customers to
higher-priced cable, voice and broadband packages.
Comcast's subscriber growth was also ahead of most
expectations in a quarter when the company plowed resources
into finishing its deal to acquire control of NBC Universal.
The deal closed in late January, adding a broadcast network,
cable networks like MSNBC and USA, theme parks and a movie
studio to Comcast's lineup.
Shares of the largest U.S. cable company rose 3.3 percent
after its earning report and an announcement that it would
raise annual dividend by 19 percent and accelerate a $2.1
billion stock repurchase program.
"I was impressed both in terms of customer numbers and the
financials," said Thomas Eagan, an analyst with Collins
Stewart. "Oftentimes a company can beat estimates on customers
but not financials because they will give the services away.
That wasn't the case here."
Another cable company, Cablevision Systems Corp. CVC.N,
also reported higher quarterly earnings and increased its share
buyback. But that was outweighed by disappointing subscriber
numbers and its shares dropped nearly 3 percent
Comcast's earnings, meanwhile, rose to $1.02 billion, or 36
cents a share, from $955 million, or 33 cents a share, in the
period a year ago. Excluding one-time items, Thomson Reuters
I/B/E/S estimates that Comcast earned 34 cents a share, ahead
of the 32 cents a share analysts had expected.
Comcast's revenue also surpassed expectations, rising 7
percent to $9.7 billion, it said on Wednesday.
The stronger quarterly results came partly thanks to a
surge in advertising at its cable networks, which include The
Golf Channel, E! and Versus. Sharply higher ad sales were
widely expected after results from media companies Time Warner
Inc and News Corp in recent weeks showed that the ad market
recovery is in full swing. [ID:nN02180792]
But the results also reflect Comcast's concentration on
upgrading customers to more expensive combinations of services,
such as broadband and cable. Average revenue it earned for each
video customer rose by 10.6 percent in the quarter.
In the quarter, Comcast added 292,000 high-speed Internet
customers, up 18 percent from a year before, and 257,000 voice
customers, up about 6 percent. Those figures were ahead of what
most analysts expected.
As for basic cable, the least expensive service, Comcast
lost 135,000 customers. While still painful, analysts pointed
out that the figure is a solid improvement from a year ago,
when Comcast lost 199,000 basic cable customers.
"I would say one of the standout numbers was basic video
losses," said Collins Stewart's Eagan.
Comcast is hardly alone. Across the cable industry,
providers have been steadily losing basic video subscribers,
for any number of reasons.
Some point to economic factors, with high unemployment and
a bad housing market reason enough for the hardest hit
Americans to shut off cable service. Others talk about intense
competition from satellite and telecommunication company
rivals, such as DirecTV DTV.O or AT&T Inc (T.N).
Still others say customers have cancelled basic cable
service because they see it as unecessary in a day when so much
programming is free on the Internet.
This quarter, Cablevision's basic cable losses were
particularly alarming, analysts said. The New York based cable
provider lost 35,000 basic cable customers -- more than double
the 14,000 analysts at Bernstein Research had estimated.
Cablevision blamed a 15-day blackout of News Corp's
(NWSA.O) Fox broadcast channel over fee dispute for losing more
subscribers than expected.
Cablevision's profit rose to $113.9 million, or 38 cents a
share, from $78.4 million, or 26 cents a share a year before.
Revenue rose 5.7 percent to $1.87 billion.
In early trade, Comcast's shares rose 81 cents at $24.97
and Cablevision's shares fell 98 cents to $36.39.
(Additional reporting by Yinka Adegoke, editing by Dave
Zimmerman and Derek Caney)