Comcast shares fall despite earnings beat

Key Points
  • Comcast fourth-quarter results exceeded expectations on the top and bottom lines.
  • The company added 442,000 new high-speed internet customers during the quarter, which surpassed analysts' expectations for 378,000 net adds.
Watch CNBC's full interview with Comcast CEO Brian Roberts on Q4 earnings

Comcast on Thursday reported fourth-quarter earnings that exceeded estimates for the top and bottom lines.

The company also said it added 442,000 new high-speed internet customers, surpassing expectations for 378,000 net adds. Comcast said that big beat was its best for a fourth quarter in five years.

Comcast CEO Brian Roberts announced the company is increasing its dividend by 10% to 92 cents per share on an annualized basis for 2020.

Shares of Comcast closed down 3.7% in afternoon trading.

Here are the results compared with analyst expectations:

  • Earnings per share: 79 cents vs. 76 cents per share expected, according to Refinitiv estimates
  • Revenue: $28.398 billion vs. $28.169 billion expected, according to Refinitiv
  • High-speed internet customers: 442,000 net adds vs. 378,000 net adds expected, according to FactSet estimates

The company has pursued new media assets as other areas of its business, such as video customers, have continued to drop off. After the earnings report, Roberts told CNBC's "Squawk Box" that Comcast has made a "pivot to a broadband-centric cable company."

"I think there is a bifurcation in the market. Some people want a real premium video experience and those customers are very stable and we're very satisfied with that business," Roberts said. "At the same time, we needed to pivot the whole company to the streaming world and I think what's exciting is how well our cable company has done that."

The company reported a net drop in video customers of 149,000 for the fourth quarter, which was higher than the expected loss of 139,000 and worse than what it reported a year earlier, when it reported a net loss of 29,000 video customers.

Comcast's NBCUniversal segment, which includes broadcast and cable channels, as well as theme parks and studios, saw its revenue slide 2.6% to $9.2 billion during the quarter.

Theatrical revenue for NBCUniversal slumped 21% from a year earlier. The company blamed the decline on the disappointing performance of "Cats," which had a dismal debut at the box office in December. Comcast also cited the strength of film releases in the prior year's fourth quarter, including "The Grinch" and "Halloween."

Revenues in Comcast's cable division came in at $14.8 billion, which surpassed analysts' expectations of $14.75 billion. Broadcast revenues grew 2.1% to $3.2 billion during the quarter.

Here's how Comcast's other divisions did for the quarter:

  • Cable communications accounted for $14.395 billion in total revenue
  • Cable networks accounted for $2.93 billion in total revenue
  • Broadcast television brought in $3.16 billion in total revenue
  • Filmed entertainment brought in $1.56 billion in total revenue
  • Theme parks brought in $1.56 billion in total revenue

The company said Sky, the British broadcaster it acquired in 2018, saw its customer relationships increase by 77,000 during the quarter to 24 million. Sky brought in $5.04 billion in revenue during the period, an 0.4% increase from a year earlier.

Looking ahead to 2020, Roberts said Comcast is focused on investing in broadband, helping users sort through apps, streaming and aggregation, as well as new expansions in theme parks. The company is also set to make some investments in Sky that will "build growth for the years beyond" 2020, Roberts said.

The quarterly report came one week after Comcast's NBCUniversal unveiled its new streaming service, "Peacock." The service launches in the U.S. on July 15 with a free version and two paid tiers. Peacock will compete with streaming products from the likes of Netflix, Disney+, AT&T's HBO Max, Apple TV+ and Hulu.

NBCUniversal is taking tepid steps into the streaming wars with the launch of Peacock. The company stands to make less revenue-per-user from the service compared with what it generates from selling its products to cable networks.

"We hope in the next four or five years to get to the kind of [average revenue per user] ... that some other platforms are getting today," Roberts said. "So I think we've given ourselves a long runway to scale up, take back some of the content that's on other platforms, make some original content, engage with customers."

Comcast plans to launch a joint news channel with NBC News and Sky News, called NBC Sky World News, that will be distributed by cable providers and over-the-top services including Peacock, the Financial Times reported on Thursday.

Disclosure: Comcast owns NBCUniversal, parent company of CNBC.

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