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Comcast sales, income ride customer growth

Earnings for the fourth quarter rise 6.6 percent to just over $1 billion, while sales grow 7.2 percent, prompting the cable company to up its annual dividend.

With its acquisition of NBC Universal finally done, Comcast today reported a boost in both sales and earnings for its fourth quarter.

For the quarter ended December 31, the cable carrier earned $1.02 billion, a gain of 6.6 percent from the $955 million earned in the prior year's quarter. Sales grew by 7.2 percent to reach $9.72 billion compared with $9.07 billion a year ago. Both results managed to beat the expectations of analysts polled by Thomson Reuters, according to Reuters, and prompted the company to lift its annual dividend by 19 percent.

With an almost 7 percent gain in sales, Comcast's cable operations helped propel overall results. Though the number of video subscribers continued to drop, the company more than compensated with growth in Internet, voice, and Triple Play (Internet, video, and voice) customers. Beyond the sheer growth in subscribers, the average monthly revenue per customer rose by 19.6 percent to $133.43.

Comcast also saw a 53 percent gain in adoption of its business-class services and a 29 percent increase in advertising revenue. In addition to raising its dividend, Comcast said it plans to buy back $2.1 billion worth of shares by the end of 2011. That marks a 75 percent rise over the $1.2 billion repurchased last year.

"These results highlight effective execution in our residential, commercial, and programming businesses, as well as the positive impact of a robust advertising market," Comcast Chairman and CEO Brian Roberts said in a statement. "Our results also demonstrate that our ongoing investments in technology and in products and services, combined with our focus on enhancing the customer experience, are bearing fruit."

Looking at the integration of NBC Universal, Comcast's 51 percent ownership of the network and its entertainment properties--which won regulatory approval in January--will make it a major player in several new industries, according to IBISWorld entertainment industry analyst Agata Kaczanowska. The new stake will give Comcast a market share of around 15.7 percent in movie and video production, 10.1 percent in TV production, and 8.7 percent in amusement and theme parks.

"Comcast now has a much larger market share in broadcasting, as current Comcast networks will be managed by the Comcast Entertainment Group (CEG) in addition to NBCU," explained Kaczanowska in a statement e-mailed to CNET. "As a result of the takeover by Comcast, NBCU will enjoy more extensive in-house distribution resources. However, CEG is anticipated to cut some costs by streamlining NBCU's production operations and consolidating those operations with Comcast's movie and television production responsibilities."