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Comcast fourth-quarter profit jumps 26%; NBC and film lag

February 15, 2012 |  8:01 am

The Lorax Universal Pictures
Comcast Corp. beat analysts' estimates with a 26% increase in fourth-quarter profit, but two NBCUniversal units continued to struggle: the NBC broadcast network and Universal Pictures.

For the quarter ended Dec. 31, the Philadelphia cable television giant posted net income of $1.29 billion, or 47 cents a share, compared to $1.02 billion, or 36 cents per share, for the year-earlier period.  Revenue climbed 3% to $15 billion.

Once again, the company's core business of providing bundles of cable TV channels and high-speed Internet service bolstered its financial results. Comcast added 336,000 Internet customers during the quarter while losing 17,000 video subscribers, demonstrating that the cable company was doing a better job holding onto its customers than it did during the recession.

But NBCUniversal continued to be a mixed bag.

The New York media company, which Comcast co-owns with industrial giant General Electric Co., generated revenue of $5.7 billion -- an increase of less than 1% over the year-earlier period.  Operating cash flow declined 6.8% to $1.1 billion for the quarter. 

Cable television networks, including USA, Syfy, Bravo and MSNBC, increased revenue 5.3% to $2.2 billion.  Broadcast TV revenue declined 3.7% to $1.8 billion -- reflecting continued ratings problems at the NBC broadcast network. 

Filmed entertainment revenue dipped 1.8% to $1.3 billion, in part because of lower home entertainment sales. Theme parks revenue climbed 4% to $498 million.

Cable networks' operating cash flow increased 15.3% to $923 million, but NBC posted an $80-million loss. The broadcast unit produced $55 million in operating cash flow in the previous-year period. Operating cash flow at Universal Pictures dropped nearly 50% to $89 million.  

Comcast said its focus for the last year was integrating NBCUniversal operations, finding the right management team and stepping up investments in programming.

"As you look out over 2012 and 2013 we are going to start to, hopefully, see some of the seeds we planted bear fruit," NBCUniversal Chief Executive Steve Burke told analysts. "We've said the network is going to take us a number of years to turn around. We also think we can see some improvement in film; our film business has not been doing well but we have a very strong slate in 2012."

However, Michael Angelakis, Comcast's chief financial officer, warned analysts: "The real headwinds are programming costs."

One analyst suggested that Comcast's shiny new toy -- media company NBCUniversal and its peacock network -- could ultimately challenge the company's financials.

"Evolutionary biologists have cogently argued that the peacock's tail evolved, paradoxically, as a gigantic display of handicap," Bernstein Research senior analyst Craig Moffett wrote in a report.  "Only a very healthy specimen could survive carrying around such a burden."

RELATED:

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Tennis Channel wins significant round against Comcast

 -- Meg James

Photo:  Ashley, voiced by Taylor Swift, is a character in the upcoming Universal Pictures film: "Dr. Suess' The Lorax." Credit:  Universal Pictures

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