Comcast’s broadband business offsets COVID pain in movies, theme parks

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Cable and media giant Comcast posted a 7 percent gain in fourth-quarter profit, thanks to continued growth in its broadband business, which was offset by pandemic-related weakness at its movie and theme park divisions.

Comcast, which owns TV network NBCUniversal, theme park Universal Studios and movie studio Universal Pictures, has been hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic, which has led to the closure of most cinemas and amusement parks. The virus crisis has also squeezed film and TV production, as well as advertising revenue.

Despite those hurdles, Philadelphia-based Comcast was boosted by the strength of its cable division, helping it post a fourth-quarter profit of $3.4 billion, or 73 cents a diluted share, beating Wall Street estimates of 48 cents. Revenue slid just over 2 percent to $27.7 billion.

The company added 538,000 broadband customers during the quarter, helping the cable unit, which includes Xfinity-branded internet, cable TV, phone and mobile services, post a 6 percent rise in revenue to $15.7 billion. With more Americans working from home and in need of internet and mobile services, Comcast said it hit a record in 2020, adding 2 million broadband customers.

On the flip side, NBCUniversal posted revenue of $7.5 billion, down from 9.2 billion. The unit was weighed down by the Universal theme parks business, which suffered a 63 percent drop in revenue to $579 million. Chief executive Brian Roberts said Comcast “reached breakeven” when stripping out cost related to its not-yet-opened Universal Beijing resort.

Elsewhere, revenue at NBCUniversal’s film division fell 8 percent to $1.4 billion, the company said, adding that the exclusion of costs related to and marketing of movies that were pushed into 2021, such as the new James Bond flick, “No Time to Die,” helped stem the losses.

Comcast continued to lose TV subscribers as more customers cut the cord and opted to stream content. Defections hit 248,000 in the fourth quarter as the company lost 1.4 million cable TV customers in 2020.

In order to offset cable defections, Comcast launched Peacock, NBCUniversal’s streaming service, on July 15 last year. The company said it has had 33 million signups but declined to say how many of them were brand new customers versus pre-existing Comcast and Cox customers who get Peacock included in their pay TV and broadband packages.

NBCU boss Jeff Shell said its new exclusive agreement to stream wrestling matches from the WWE Network in the US should also drive signups and engagement, along with the recent launch of reruns of the popular sitcom “The Office” on the streaming service.

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