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Comcast Q4 Broadband Results Narrowly Miss Consensus; Dividend Upped

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Comcast added 212,000 broadband subscribers in the fourth quarter, narrowly missing analysts’ consensus estimates of 220,000 additions but beating some analysts’ revised targets for the quarter. Meanwhile, the wireless business had its best quarterly subscriber growth ever. 

Comcast finished the year with 1.3 million broadband additions, just like Cable division CEO Dave Watson said the company would back in December,  when analysts, who were expecting at least 1.4 million high-speed internet adds for the year, frantically revised their models.

Many, like Wells Fargo media analyst Steven Cahall, dropped their Q4 broadband targets to between 185,000 and 190,000, in anticipation of an even slower slowdown in the high-speed data segment. In a research note, Cahall said Comcast slightly missed analysts’ consensus estimates of 220,000 broadband additions for the quarter, and that high-speed data performance will continue to be top of mind for investors.

“We expect the 2022E broadband net outlook to be the biggest topic for Comcast, though the company may not provide a quantitative view this early in the year,” Cahall wrote. “The release suggests churn remains historically low, but we think gross adds are weak in a continuation of the [second half] 2021 trends. As such, today's print [earnings press release] may not prove decisive for the broadband debates around cable.”

Evercore ISI media analyst Vijay Jayant, who had expected 190,000 broadband additions in the quarter, said in a research note that Comcast’s performance was “healthy in an uncertain environment.”  

Comcast shares were down less than 1% (25 cents each) in pre-market trading at $48.21 per share. 

The company said it increased its annual dividend by 8% to $1.08 per share and upped its share repurchase authorization to $10 billion. 

Comcast said that it had the strongest fourth quarter broadband retention in its history, but declined to reveal churn numbers. Overall, Comcast added 169,000 customer relationships in the period, as wireless additions of about 312,000 customers (its best quarterly performance ever) helped it outpace video customer losses of 373,000. 

Cable unit revenue rose 4.5% in the quarter to $16.4 billion and 7.1% for the year to $64.3 billion. EBITDA for the quarter was up 7.8% to $7.1 billion and 11.2% to $28.1 billion for the year.

Consolidated revenue increased 9.5% to $30.3 billion in the quarter and 12.4% to $116.4 billion for the year. Company wide, EBITDA rose 17% to $8.4 billion and 12,6% to $34.7 billion for the year. 

"Comcast’s strong operating and financial performance in 2021 was underscored by our highest full-year revenue, adjusted EBITDA, adjusted EPS, and free cash flow on record,” chairman and CEO Brian Roberts said in a press release. “We continue to execute extraordinarily well, strengthening our leadership position in connectivity, aggregation, and streaming, while working to have a lasting impact on our communities through our commitment to DE&I and digital equity. Looking ahead, we remain focused on our many exciting organic growth opportunities across all of our businesses.” ■

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.