Comcast beats estimates despite slowing broadband growth, higher Peacock losses

Comcast topped analyst expectations with its first-quarter earnings report Thursday, despite the cable and media giant’s residential broadband business’s slowing growth and mounting Peacock losses.

Shares of the company closed 10% higher Thursday.

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

  • Earnings per share: 92 cents adjusted vs. 82 cents expected
  • Revenue: $29.69 billion vs. $29.3 billion expected

For the quarter ended March 31, Comcast reported earnings of $3.83 billion, or 91 cents per share, compared with $3.55 billion, or 78 cents per share, a year earlier. Adjusting for one-time items, Comcast posted earnings per share of 92 cents for the most recent period.

Revenue dropped 4% to $29.69 billion from $31.01 billion in the prior-year period, with the company noting that last year it had broadcast both the Super Bowl and Beijing Olympics during the first quarter. 

The Philadelphia company said its first-quarter adjusted earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization grew 3% to $9.42 billion during the first quarter. 

Comcast said it returned $3.2 billion to shareholders in the quarter through a mix of $1.2 billion in dividend payments and $2 billion in share repurchases. 

Comcast had 21,000 fewer residential broadband customers year-over-year at the end of the three-month period, adding just 3,000 during the quarter. It received a slight boost from its business customers. Company executives had warned earlier this year that Comcast was likely to lose broadband subscribers in the first quarter. 

Still, it was a sign that Comcast, like its peers, continues to face slowing growth in the broadband business. Executives have said that, while the loss rate of customers is very low, growth has stagnated – especially since the early days of the Covid pandemic – as they face heightened competition from telecom and wireless providers. 

Comcast executives said on Thursday’s earnings call that the company expects adding subscribers to likely be a challenge in the near term, but will focus on average revenue per user to grow revenue for the segment.

The Xfinity mobile business grew to nearly 5.67 million customers during the quarter, a sign that its wireless service – which is provided in conjunction with an agreement to use Verizon‘s network – remains a bright spot. 

Cable TV customers continued their exodus from the traditional bundle, with Comcast losing 614,000 subscribers during the quarter. 

Last month, Comcast announced it was changing how it reported its segments, now grouping its Xfinity-branded broadband, cable TV and wireless services with its U.K.-based Sky, which includes pay TV services and Sky-branded entertainment TV channels to form the “connectivity and platforms” segment. Total revenue for the segment was about $20.15 billion, a slight drop from the last quarter due to the impact of foreign currency. 

The second segment, content and experiences, includes all of NBCUniversal’s TV and streaming business, the international networks and Sky Sports channels, as well as its film studios and theme parks units. Overall revenue for the segment was down nearly 10% to $10.26 billion in the quarter.

The media business’ revenue took a dip in the first quarter, with it dropping about 20% to $6.15 billion, due to its comparison last year, when NBC aired the Super Bowl and had the rights to the Beijing Olympics for its TV networks and Peacock. Still, Comcast said excluding the $1.5 billion incremental revenue from these two major sporting events, media revenue was still down about 2%. 

The tightening ad market showed on Comcast’s balance sheet this quarter, as it has for peers like Paramount Global and Warner Bros. Discovery. Excluding the Olympics and Super Bowl – two events that generate a lot of ad revenue – domestic advertising during the quarter was down about 6% driven by lower TV network revenue and a TV ratings decline. 

Domestic TV distribution revenue was up, excluding the Olympics, which Comcast noted was primarily due to higher revenue at Peacock, which had more paid subscribers. 

Comcast said Peacock subscribers grew more than 60% year over year to 22 million, and revenue was up 45% to $685 million. Peacock had $704 million in losses, compared with losses of $456 million in the same period last year. 

Last quarter, the company noted Peacock losses would amount to about $3 billion this year. The streaming service’s costs continued to weigh on the media segment’s earnings. Executives said Thursday they were “encouraged” by Peacock’s results, and following the expected peak losses this year will see a steady improvement. Comcast President Mike Cavanagh said the company had the confidence Peacock would “break even and grow from there.”

NBCUniversal’s film segment got a boost from the animated “Shrek” spinoff “Puss in Boots: The Last Wish” and horror flick “M3GAN,” during the quarter, with revenue up nearly 2% to $2.96 billion. 

Both Comcast CEO Brian Roberts and Cavanagh touted NBCUniversal’s animation film business on Thursday’s call, with the success of “The Super Mario Bros. Movie,” which was released earlier this month. This week it surpassed $900 million at the global box office, including $444 million domestically.

“We’ve had tremendous success creating franchises,” Roberts said on Thursday’s call, noting the “Despicable Me” and “Shrek” franchises. “These are the results of the strategic decisions we made years ago to become a leader in animation and the conviction to invest in the business in the pandemic.”

Cavanagh noted that NBCUniversal’s “Jurassic Park,” “Minions” and “Halloween” installments last year helped boost its box office.

“We’re really proud of our animation business,” Cavanagh said Thursday.

NBCUniversal’s upcoming film slate includes next month’s “Fast X,” the next installment in the popular “Fast and Furious” franchise, as well as Christopher Nolan’s next epic, “Oppenheimer,” about the scientist who led the development of the atomic bomb during World War II. It will be released in July.

The company’s theme park segment kept on rolling higher, especially since the shutdowns of parks during the height of the pandemic, with revenue up 25% to $1.95 billion. Revenue was boosted by international parks, which were still weighed down by pandemic restrictions last year. The opening of Super Nintendo World helped boost revenue, too. 

Earlier this week, NBCUniversal faced a shake-up with the ouster of CEO Jeff Shell due to a sexual harassment and discrimination complaint filed by an employee. Roberts addressed the matter at the start of Thursday’s call, saying it was “obviously a tough moment” for the company but noting his confidence in NBCUniversal’s leadership team, which will now report to Cavanagh.

“Think of me as being here for awhile,” Cavanagh said regarding his future as overseeing the NBCUniversal team. He noted during the call he’s been close to the business since joining Comcast nearly eight years ago and has been “deeply involved for a long time.”

Investors also shouldn’t expect to see NBCUniversal “revisiting strategy” as a result of Shell’s departure alone, and instead would react “as the environment changes.”

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

Correction: Comcast’s total media revenue was down more than 20%. An earlier version misstated that figure.

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