Comcast revenues beat Street; records big boost in video customers

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Comcast Corp posted better-than-expected fourth-quarter revenue and added the most video customers in any quarter in eight years, even as viewers gravitate toward online offerings.

The largest U.S. cable operator and the No. 1 U.S. high-speed Internet provider said on Wednesday it also raised its annual dividend by 10 percent to $1.10 per share and earmarked $5 billion in stock buybacks for 2016 as part of a $10 billion program.

Shares of Comcast rose 4.5 percent to $57.04 in mid-day trading.

Total revenue at Philadelphia-based Comcast rose 8.5 percent to $19.25 billion in the fourth quarter, surpassing analysts’ expectations of $18.76 billion, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.

Net income attributable to the company rose 2.4 percent to $2 billion, or 79 cents per share, from a year earlier. Excluding items such as gains on sales and acquisition-related items, profit rose 5.2 percent to 81 cents per share, a penny below estimates.

The company added 89,000 video subscribers, the most in any quarter in eight years. A year earlier it picked up about 6,000 new subscribers.

Cable and satellite-TV operators are battling streaming video services like Netflix Inc and Hulu for subscribers, as viewers are increasingly moving away from pay-TV toward online video offerings.

Comcast has been investing in improving customer service, enhancing features on its set-top boxes and rolled out smaller bundles in a bid to retain and add subscribers.

Wall Street has been keeping an eye on whether Comcast may enter the wireless market.

The U.S. Federal Communications Commission will hold the broadcast TV spectrum incentive auction, an effort buy back wireless airwaves from broadcasters and sell them to the wireless industry and other players.

Comcast would participate in the auction, starting in late March said on an earnings conference call.

“We’re going to ... evaluate, consider and may purchase, but only if we think the price is right, Chief Financial Officer Mike Cavanagh said.

The spectrum would be valuable in helping potentially build out infrastructure to offer wireless services to customers.

The company’s business services unit posted $1.3 billion in revenue, up 19 percent from a year ago. Revenue from Comcast’s high-speed Internet business grew about 10 percent to $3.2 billion, and Internet customer additions rose 23 percent to 460,000 - the highest in nine years.

At NBCUniversal, revenue jumped 13 percent to $7.5 billion, with film studio revenue climbing 26 percent to $1.63 billion.

Editing by Jeffrey Benkoe