In its fourth quarter, Comcast managed to accomplish what few had expected any cable company could accomplish in the competitive video era: It minimized subscriber defections to the point where customer loss was almost negligible.
Comcast lost only 17,000 video customers in Q4, the smallest number of defections in five years. In the similar quarter last year, the company lost 135,000 subscribers. For fiscal 2011, Comcast lost 460,000 TV subs, compared with 757,000 in 2010.
Meanwhile, the company continued to increase the number of voice subscribers and higher-margin broadband subscribers, adding 257,000 and 292,000, respectively, during the quarter. The net addition of revenue-generating units was 465,000. For the year, Comcast added 1.4 million RGUs, up 10 percent from 2010.
Revenue increased in all cable segments but for advertising. Total cable revenue was $9.4 billion in Q4 2011, up from $9 billion in Q4 2010. For the year, cable revenue was $37.2 billion, versus $35.6 billion in 2010. The company noted that it pulled the results from its sports networks out of the cable sector; those operations are now combined with those of NBCUniversal.
The company dropped capital expenditures by 12 percent in the quarter compared with the fourth quarter last year, to $1.3 billion. The company said the decrease was attributable to lower spending on customer premises equipment. (The company has been adding more lower-cost DTAs to its mix.) For the year, however, Comcast’s capex was almost precisely even with last year at $4.8 billion.
The company said the drivers in the segment were increases in broadband and business services revenue (10.1 percent and 36.8 percent, respectively), along with a 7 percent increase in video subscriber ARPU.
The result indicates that Comcast keeps stealing broadband customers from phone companies. Together, AT&T and Verizon Communications added a net 49,000 broadband customers in the period.
CEO Brian Roberts said the company will start growing its video subscriber base once the economy improves and new households start forming.
"We may not get back to full growth on video for a while, because we don't see housing growth at the moment, but some day, that's going to happen," he told analysts on a conference call.
Comcast on Wednesday reported net income of $1.29 billion, or 47 cents per share, for the quarter. That's up 26 percent from $1.02 billion, or 36 cents per share, in the last three months of 2010.
Analysts polled by FactSet were on average expecting earnings of 41 cents per share.
Corporate revenue was $15.04 billion, up 55 percent from $9.72 billion in the fourth quarter of 2010. The increase was due mainly to the acquisition of NBCUniversal, which closed a year ago. Revenue rose 3 percent when factoring in NBCUniversal in the previous-year figure.
Analysts had forecast revenue of $14.94 billion.
The cable provider said it was raising its annual dividend from 45 cents to 65 cents per share, and it also authorized a new $6.5 billion stock buyback program. The company intends to buy back $3 billion in shares this year. The dividend is worth $1.8 billion to shareholders annually.
Comcast shares rose $1.55 to $28.80 Tuesday morning and hit a four-and-a-half-year high of $29.05 earlier.
For all of 2011, Comcast earned $4.16 billion, or $1.50 per share, up 14 percent from $3.64 billion, or $1.29 per share, in 2010.
Full-year revenue was $55.8 billion, up 47 percent from $37.9 billion in 2010.
– The Associated Press contributed to this report