In Comcast's first quarter since acquiring a majority stake in NBC Universal, CNBC's parent, the cable and media giant beat expectations. The cable division continues to draw more, higher-value subscribers, despite growing competition. NBC Universal reported far more granular numbers than it did when it was wholly owned by GE , and as expected, the cable networks thrived while the broadcast network continued to struggle.
The company isn't holding its earnings call until Wednesday morning, giving investors and analysts plenty of time to digest these numbers. But in the earnings release CEO Brian Roberts weighed in with upbeat comments, saying in the cable division "customer retention and service metrics have never been better" and for the company as a whole, "we remain focused on execution, which includes driving product leadership and innovation." We can expect to hear plenty about digital initiatives, like "XFinity" and how NBC Universal is monetizing its content on new platforms.
The company reported adjusted earnings per share of 36 cents, two cents more than analyst projections. Free cash flow— a key metric — grew 17.7 percent to $2.2 billion. Revenue comparisons are a bit more complicated. Comcast , plus two months of NBC Universal generated $12.13 billion in revenue. Including three months of NBC Universal, the company's revenue was $13.29 billion. There's no true apples-to-apples comparison to analyst consensus, because some analysts included two, some included three months of NBC Universal. But the average analyst revenue number was $12.97.
Comcast's cable business outperformed on a variety of metrics, following on the heels of Time Warner Cable's results last week, which were also unexpectedly strong. The average subscriber is paying 9.3 percent more than a year ago. Comcast added more high-speed Internet subscribers than expected — 418,000. And the number of basic video subscribers it lost was less than half the loss in the year-ago quarter and the lowest quarterly loss of basic video subscribers in four years.
At NBC Universal it's no surprise the cable networks propelled the growth. Cable ad revenue grew 14 percent to $769 million, while NBC Entertainment's ad revenue rose by 8 percent. But the broadcast network suffered — revenue down 35 percent — from tough comparisons to the year-ago quarter, when NBC had both the Olympics and political ad spending. The theme parks benefited from the new Harry Potter attraction, and the division, NBC Universal's smallest, grew 16 percent to $95 million.
The movie studio also suffered — revenue down 8 percent — as the company accounted for hefty marketing costs for 'Hop' and 'Fast Five,' both of which weren't released until the second quarter. The benefit — the studio should see a boost in Q2.
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