Comcast Corp.'s earnings jumped nearly 30% in its first quarter as more customers signed up for high-speed Internet service. But the cable Goliath also showed strength in some an unexpected quarters: the long-lagging NBC broadcast unit and Universal Pictures, which released two hit movies, including "The Lorax."
For the quarter ended March 31, the Philadelphia-based company said its net income grew to $1.22 billion, or 45 cents per share, from $943 million, or 34 cents per share, from the year-earlier period.
Comcast generated consolidated revenue of $14.88 billion -- an increase of 23%.
"I'm really pleased with our start in 2012," Comcast Chief Executive Brian Roberts said in a Wednesday morning conference call with analysts. "Cable had another outstanding quarter.... We are starting to make some progress in broadcast."
NBCUniversal revenue was up 18% to $5.5 billion, in large part because the NBC broadcast network raked in $259 million in Super Bowl advertising revenue. (Excluding the Super Bowl, revenue at NBCUniversal was up 12.4%).
Roberts reminded analysts that NBCUniversal results would be volatile because of the hit-and-miss nature of movie box office and higher television programming costs. Comcast has been spending more on programming to try to lift the peacock network to profitability.
Operating cash flow at NBCUniversal was up 34.3% to $813 million compared to the first quarter of 2011. In terms of revenue, NBCUniversal cable networks generated $2.1 billion in revenue versus $2 billion in the year-earlier period. The NBC broadcast unit pulled in $1.85 billion in revenue (including the Super Bowl) compared to $1.35 billion in the year-earlier period. Film entertainment revenue swelled to $1.19 billion from $975 million in 2011. Theme parks generated $412 million, up from $390 million.
However, the company's operating cash flow margins were lower at cable networks due to higher programming and production costs, including those for NBA basketball. The broadcast unit posted an operating cash flow loss of $10 million, reflecting higher programming costs and higher marketing expenses to support the launch of mid-season shows, including "Smash."
"We're starting to make some progress but there is a long way to go," NBCUniversal Chief Executive Steve Burke told analysts. "And in film, we have a much stronger slate this year." Among Universal's upcoming film titles are the big budget action film "Battleship," the dark fairy tale "Snow White and the Huntsman," and a new iteration of the successful "Bourne" series.
Comcast is the nation's largest cable television and high-speed Internet provider. It holds a 51% controlling interest in NBCUniversal.
-- Meg James
Photo: Comcast Cable company trucks in Southern California / Credit: Bob Chamberlin / Los Angeles Times.