Comcast loses 33K pay TV subscribers amid ‘new normal in competition for video’


Declaring what it called a “new normal” of rampant competition in the video business that’s here to stay, Comcast said it lost 33,000 pay TV customers in the fourth quarter, but it also saw video revenue increase 1.5% during the period.

“We’re more than holding our own in this environment,” Comcast CEO Brian Roberts told investors this morning. “With our culture of innovation, we’re well positioned to compete in this marketplace.”

The subscriber loss is compared to a gain of 80,000 video subcribers in the fourth quarter of 2016. For the year, Comcast lost 151,000 video users—following a turnaround 2016, during which it reported its first full-year gain in a decade by adding 161,000 users. 

Comcast’s modest video customer losses this year, however, are put into context by what is expected to be a massive blood loss of more than 3 million users for the broader linear pay TV business. 

Overall, Comcast saw a 3.4% increase in revenue to $13.3 billion from its cable division, with high-speed internet (HSI) revenue up 8.4% and business services revenue spiking 12.2%.

Comcast gained 350,000 HSI users during the fourth quarter, only slightly less than the 380,000 it picked up in the fourth quarter of 2016.

Comcast executives dismissed concerns from analysts that Comcast’s capacity to continue growing its broadband business will diminish amid what is becoming a saturated U.S. market for HSI services. 

“Overall, penetration is about 80%, so there’s room for growth,” said Comcast Cable division CEO Dave Watson. He added that Comcast will also continue to growth is ISP business through faster speeds, with deployment of DOCSIS 3.1 network technology now up to 80% across its footprint. 

Speaking to other parts of the cable business, Comcast revealed that it has now deployed 380,000 lines for its recently launched Xfinity Mobile service. However, CFO Mike Cavanagh conceded that it will be “several years” before Comcast breaks out financials for its nascent wireless service. 

Overall, Comcast saw a 4.1% increase in consolidated revenue, with its NBCUniversal division spinning off a 3.9% revenue spike. Notably, NBCU’s Universal Pictures division had its most profitable year ever, reporting full-year revenue growth of 83.3%

"It may be a surprise that Comcast's fourth quarter video subscriber losses were better than expected, their broadband subscriber growth was also better than expected, and their consolidated revenue growth rate was a healthy 4.2% for the quarter and 5.1% for the year," said MoffettNathanson analyst Craig Moffett.