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Comcast’s profits rose 11.5 percent despite losing more cord cutters

The Philadelphia company’s cable unit signed up 379,000 broadband customers from July through September, while losing 238,000 Xfinity TV subscribers.

Comcast Corp. reported $3.2 billion in third-quarter profits on Thursday. (Dreamstime/TNS)
Comcast Corp. reported $3.2 billion in third-quarter profits on Thursday. (Dreamstime/TNS)Read moreSUNDRY PHOTOGRAPHY / MCT

Comcast Corp. gained a record number of new customers during the third quarter this year, helping boost the cable and media giant’s profits despite weaker results from NBCUniversal.

The Philadelphia company’s cable unit netted 309,000 customers from July through September, the most additions during a three-month period for Comcast. Even as consumers continued to flee pay TV — Comcast lost 238,000 video customers in the quarter — the company signed up 379,000 new high-speed internet customers. The company also has members for business services, security, and automation and wireless.

The broadband gains helped lift Comcast’s profits by 11.5% to $3.2 billion, or 79 cents per share on an adjusted basis, beating Wall Street estimates. By comparison, the company pulled in nearly $2.9 billion in net income during the same quarter last year.

Overall, Comcast raked in $26.8 billion in revenue during the quarter, up 21.2%, largely due to the acquisition of Sky, the European telecommunications company that Comcast bought for $40 billion in late 2018.

For all the talk of the threat posed by cord-cutting, Comcast’s cable division saw its revenues rise 4% to nearly $14.6 billion, as revenues for its internet and business service units each increased by 9.3%. Comcast is now up to more than 31 million cable customers nationwide.

The results were less rosy at NBCUniversal, where revenues dropped 3.5% overall to $8.3 billion. Revenues were down across its cable networks (2.8%), broadcast television (9.1%), and filmed entertainment (6.2%) businesses.

Theme parks, however, saw revenues increase 6.8% compared with last year, when severe weather and natural disasters harmed attendance in Japan.

Comcast blamed some of NBCUniversal’s revenue slumps on tough comparisons with a year ago. For example, the company noted the success of film releases last year such as Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom and Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again. As for the broadcast declines, the company pointed to the absence of advertising revenue from Telemundo’s coverage of the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia.

Some analysts, however, see a larger conflict between Comcast and NBCUniversal as consumers ditch traditional pay TV in favor of online video-streaming options.

“The dilemma at Comcast is now relatively familiar. Losing video subscribers may be good for the cable side of the business, but it can’t be good for [NBCUniversal],” wrote telecom analyst Craig Moffett, of the MoffettNathanson firm in New York City.

He added that Comcast’s earning results were very strong overall but said questions remain about “the uneasy coexistence between a cable business that benefits by moving away from video and a business [NBCUniversal] that suffers when it does.”

Sky revenue fell 4.2% to nearly $4.6 billion but when adjusted for currency rose roughly 1%. Sky — whose largest pay-TV markets are the United Kingdom, Germany, and Italy — lost 99,000 customers during the quarter, compared with a gain of 426,000 last year.

Comcast executives noted Sky had record streaming growth in the previous quarter due to the final season of Game of Thrones and the debut of Chernobyl, the acclaimed original series coproduced by HBO and Sky.