4 Min Read
* Earnings of 46 cents a share match Wall Street estimates
* Comcast loses fewer cable video customers than expected
* NBC has ratings momentum-analyst
* Cable ad spending to rise in Q4 on election-analyst
* Shares up 2.3 percent
By Liana B. Baker
Oct 26 (Reuters) - Comcast Corp posted higher quarterly profit on Friday after its NBC Universal media unit scored $1.2 billion in additional revenue from its London Olympics coverage
The leading U.S. cable TV operator, whose shares rose 2.3 percent, also benefited from adding Internet users.
Because of the Olympics, "broadcast actually made money for the first time in a long time," said Macquarie analyst Amy Yong.
The London Olympics coverage helped NBC Universal's revenue climb more than 30 percent to $6.8 billion from a year earlier. The games drew a record audience that averaged 31.3 million viewers per night, 12 percent above the Beijing Olympics.
With the strong ratings performance over the summer, Comcast said it will at least break even on its $1.18 billion deal for the London Olympics. Analysts initially expected the company to lose money on the London Olympics.
Comcast and NBC have the rights to broadcast the next four Olympic contests through 2020. CEO Brian Roberts said Comcast will eventually turn a profit from the future games.
"We now have more confidence than ever that the Olympics can be profitable for our company," Roberts told analysts on a conference call.
To the surprise of industry analysts, NBC has been No. 1 in TV ratings in the key 18-49 age group for the first four weeks of the fall season.
Yong, the Macquarie analyst, said Comcast shares were trading higher on Friday on momentum from NBC's recent ratings surge that could extend into the fourth quarter.
In the third quarter, revenues at NBC Universal's NBC broadcast unit jumped 84 percent to $2.78 billion
"It's certainly early, but I believe and hope we are seeing the beginning of a turnaround at NBC," Roberts said on the call.
Revenues for NBC Universal's movie business rose 24 percent to $1.35 billion on the strong box office for such movies as quirky comedy "Ted" and action film "The Bourne Legacy."
Comcast took a 51 percent controlling stake in NBC Universal in January 2011, but still generates the bulk of its revenue from its steady cable TV business.
Revenue at the cable unit rose 7 percent to $9.97 billion. It added 287,000 Internet customers, beating research firm StreetAccount estimates of 277,000 additions.
The company lost 117,000 video customers, fewer than the loss of 133,000 that StreetAccount expected. Comcast now has 22 million video customers.
Yong said she had expected Comcast to add video subscribers in the fourth quarter.
Average revenue per video customer rose about 9 percent to $150.73 as more subscribers bought pricier products, such as high-definition digital recorder devices.
Bernstein analyst Craig Moffett said cable advertising was the standout item in the quarter, with a 24 percent gain thanks to a jump in political advertising.
Moffett expects a major boost in political advertising in the fourth quarter as campaigns make use of cable technology to target ads in battleground districts.
"Only cable can deliver that kind of geographical targeting," Moffett said in a research note.
Comcast posted third-quarter net income of $2.1 billion, or 78 cents a share, compared to $908 million, or 33 cents per share, a year ago.
Excluding gains from sales of wireless spectrum and its stake in A&E Networks, earnings came to 46 cents a share, matching the analysts' average estimate, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.
Revenue rose 15 percent to $16.54 billion - above Wall Street estimates of $16.08 billion.
Comcast shares were up 2.3 percent at $37.20.