The fever seems to have broken at Comcast Corp., as the nation's largest cable operator added TV subscribers in the fourth quarter of 2013.
For more than six years, Comcast shed more than two million TV subscribers as phone companies entering the pay-TV business, satellite-TV companies, and new Internet video providers chipped away at its customers.
Brian Roberts, chief executive of the cable giant, disclosed the development at a conference Tuesday in Las Vegas, without saying how many subscribers Comcast had gained.
The company is expected to release the actual numbers in several weeks with fourth-quarter earnings.
Dubbing it an "exciting reversal of trends," Roberts attributed the gain in part to Comcast's new X1 cloud-based channel guide, which has lowered customer churn - those who purchase and then drop the service. Roberts was speaking at Citigroup's 2014 Internet, Media and Telecommunications Conference.
"It's been a long time coming, but it speaks to the consistent focus the company has had on improving the video experience," said Craig Moffett, one of the nation's leading telecommunications analysts. "Ten years ago, DirecTV had the best video product on the market. Today, that title belongs to Comcast."
Comcast has about 22 million cable-TV subscribers, and before the fourth quarter, it had lost TV subscribers for 26 consecutive quarters. While devastating for its revenue, the company has been losing fewer customers over the last two years than in prior years. Comcast also has operated more efficiently than Time Warner Cable, the nation's second-largest publicly traded cable operator.
Time Warner Cable lost 745,000 TV customers from the third quarter of 2012 to the third quarter of 2013, or about 6 percent of its TV-customer base. As of the third quarter of 2013, Time Warner Cable had 11.4 million TV customers.
Over this same period, Comcast - with about double the TV subscribers - lost only 355,000 TV customers, or 1.6 percent of its subscriber base.
Comcast stock soared 3.5 percent, or $1.81, to close at $52.83.