Wednesday morning before the bell Comcast will be the first of the media giants to report its quarterly earnings.
The company's report will be under a microscope, not just for what the numbers say about Comcast and the cable giants, but for what hints they might provide about an economic rebound.
That means a sharp eye to subscriber numbers, and whether consumers are paying up for more premium cable channels and movies on demand.
Comcast is expected to report earnings per share of 30 cents, up from 27 cents in the year-ago quarter. According to Thomson, analysts expect revenue of $9.15 billion, up from $8.8 billion last year. The other key numbers Wall Street will be watching are free cash flow -- which is expected to be higher than last year -- and subscriber numbers.
Morgan Stanley's Ben Swinburne expects Comcast to have kept rates for its video service low — postponing increases to keep subscribers happy. Barclays Capital's James Ratcliffe says he expects the company to lose fewer customers this quarter than it did in the prior quarter, but nearly twice as many as it did in the year-ago quarter.
We can expect analysts to pepper management with questions about the pending Comcast acquisition of NBC Universal, though we shouldn't expect any answers. (Just today NBC Universal launched its offering of $4 billion in debt, part of the company's plan to borrow $9.1 billion to finance the deal. CNBC and NBC Universal are both owned by parent company General Electric .)
The question is how much regulatory concerns have and will weigh on the company — Time Warner Cable's stock has gained more than twice what Comcast's has so far this year. Comcast leadership has continued to express confidence that the deal will close, but it's not an easy process. The National Coalition of African American Owned Media just hired former FCC chair Kevin Martin as its counsel to bolster its attack on the merger.
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