Comcast added 538,000 broadband customers in the fourth quarter, a record for that period for the cable giant and enough to outpace steep declines in its theme park and content units fueled by the pandemic.
The 538,000 high-speed internet additions pushed Comcast’s total broadband additions for the year to 2 million, its best year on record. Video customers declined by 248,000 in the period, nearly twice the 149,000 lost in the same period in 2019.
The broadband gains culminate what has been a record year for the segment, fueled by work-from home orders and home schooling driven by the pandemic. In Q3, Comcast added 633,000 broadband customers, its best growth quarter in that segment ever.
“Outstanding performance at Cable drove very strong fourth quarter results for our company,” Comcast chairman and CEO Brian Roberts said in a press release. “Our theme parks in Orlando and Osaka reached breakeven; and, encouragingly, Sky returned to customer growth in all three of its markets, bringing our total customer relationships and overall revenue in Europe essentially back to 2019 levels."
But the broadband additions were enough to push revenue up by 6.3% in the quarter to $15.7 billion and cash flow up by 12.3% to $6.6 billion. For the year, cable revenue was up 3.4% to $60.1 billion and cash flow rose 8.6% to $25.3 billion.
Those gains helped offset continued losses at NBCUniversal’s theme parks — where revenue was down 62.9% in Q4 and fell 68.9% for the full year — broadcast television and filmed entertainment units.
Broadcast television revenue fell 12%, fueled by a 9.6% decline in advertising revenue. Retransmission consent and other fees were up by about 10% in the period.
At its cable networks, revenue fell 6.4% to $2.7 billion in the quarter, due to lower licensing, content and distribution fees. Ad revenue in the period was down 4.2%. But lower production expenses during COVID-19 helped boost cash flow in the segment up 22% to $1.3 billion.
At the theme parks, the pandemic decimated attendance, and mainly reflect operations in its Orlando, Florida and Osaka, Japan parks, which were opened on a limited basis during the year.
U.K. satellite company Sky saw some gains, as total revenue was up 3.3% in the quarter (but down 3.3% for the full year), while cash flow sank 82.3% to $129 million. Total customer relationships were up by 244,000, more than three times the 77,000 additions in Q4 2019 which offered some encouragement. As more countries begin to roll out COVID-19 vaccines, Comcast was optimistic that its fortunes would improve.
“With the vaccines rolling out throughout the world, we are optimistic that the parts of our business that had been most impacted will soon be back on a path towards growth,” Roberts said in the press release. “This confidence is shared by our board of directors, which has announced an increase in the dividend for the thirteenth consecutive year. In addition, it is now our expectation that we will be in a position to begin repurchasing shares again in the back half of this year. While this is certainly the most challenging period we have faced, I could not be more proud of how our management team and employees continue to pull together and deliver. Today’s results are a testament to their commitment and dedication.”
Mike Farrell is senior content producer, finance for Multichannel News/B+C, covering finance, operations and M&A at cable operators and networks across the industry. He joined Multichannel News in September 1998 and has written about major deals and top players in the business ever since. He also writes the On The Money blog, offering deeper dives into a wide variety of topics including, retransmission consent, regional sports networks,and streaming video. In 2015 he won the Jesse H. Neal Award for Best Profile, an in-depth look at the Syfy Network’s Sharknado franchise and its impact on the industry.
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