Earnings

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Scott Mlyn | CNBC

Comcast on Thursday reported fourth-quarter earnings that topped analyst expectations despite persistent softness in broadband subscriber growth and mounting losses from its streaming service, Peacock. 

The company’s top-line growth was fueled by higher revenue from its broadband and wireless businesses, as well as its theme parks segment. 

Here’s how Comcast performed, compared with estimates from analysts surveyed by Refinitiv:

  • Earnings per share: 82 cents, adjusted, vs. 77 cents expected
  • Revenue: $30.55 billion vs. $30.32 billion expected.

The Philadelphia company reported Thursday its fourth-quarter adjusted earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization declined nearly 5% to $8 billion compared with the same period last year, particularly because of higher severance expenses.

Comcast said it lost 26,000 total broadband customers during the period, particularly due to the impact from Hurricane Ian, which struck Florida and South Carolina in September, which caused severe damage and losses at Comcast subscriber homes, management said on a call with investors Thursday. Excluding the impact of the hurricane, Comcast said it would have added 4,000 customers.

Yet even that number was a sign that cable broadband subscriber growth has slowed – especially compared with the early days of the Covid pandemic. The slowdown in subscriber growth has been hitting the cornerstone business of cable companies like Comcast and Charter Communications in recent quarters as they face heightened competition from telecom and wireless providers.

The companies have also said recently that the U.S. housing market slowdown – and a declining rate of moving between homes – has contributed to the lack of new customers. Still, Comcast’s broadband subscriber base has remained stable and revenue for the segment increased nearly 6% during the quarter due in part to price hikes. 

Comcast’s Xfinity Mobile continued to grow with 365,000 net additions in the quarter, bringing its total wireless customer count to more than 5.3 million. Mobile customer growth has remained consistent for cable providers since jumping into the business in recent years. 

The cable TV business lost 440,000 subscribers during the quarter as consumers continue to cut their traditional TV bundles in favor of streaming services. 

Peacock pressure

NBCUniversal saw revenue increase about 6% to roughly $9.9 billion during the fourth quarter, buoyed by revenue from the 2022 FIFA World Cup, which was aired on its Spanish-language Telemundo TV network and Peacock. 

However, Peacock weighed on NBCUniversal’s business – which is made up of film, tv, streaming and theme parks – as its adjusted earnings fell more than 36% to $817 million, due to Peacock losses and higher severance expenses. NBCUniversal recorded an adjusted loss of $978 million related to Peacock compared with a loss of $559 million in the same period last year. 

Peacock’s losses in 2022 were in line with Comcast’s earlier outlook of $2.5 billion, Comcast President Michael Cavanagh said on a call with investors Thursday. The company expects Peacock losses to be up to around $3 billion in 2023, Cavanagh said.

The company still expects the service’s losses to peak in 2023, and then steadily improve thereafter, Cavanagh said Thursday.

The company said Thursday that Peacock added 5 million net paying subscribers during the fourth quarter, its best quarterly record since its 2020 launch. Peacock surpassed 20 million paying customers and its revenue nearly tripled to $2.1 billion. 

Comcast executives on Thursday attributed the increase in Peacock subscribers to its live sports programming, including the World Cup, NFL and English Premiere League, as well as movies like “Nope,” and the next-day airing of NBC and Bravo shows.

“It’s very clear we picked the right business model,” NBCUniversal CEO Jeff Shell said on Thursday. “We made that investment … and made clear from the start we’re going to make a return on that investment. I think we feel better about that now.”

NBCUniversal launched Peacock in 2020 with two options: a $4.99 ad-supported tier and $9.99 commercial-free tier. In the last year, others like Netflix and Disney+ have followed suit with less-expensive, ad-supported options as competitive forces weigh on subscriber growth for streamers.

The theme parks business remained a bright spot for NBCUniversal, with revenue for the segment increasing 12% to $2.1 billion during the fourth quarter, fueled by higher attendance and customer spending at locations in the U.S. and Japan. 

Disclosure: Comcast is the parent company of NBCUniversal, which owns CNBC.

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