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Comcast halts subscriber losses; NBCUniversal profit soars

Comcast halts subscriber losses; NBCUniversal profit soars
Comcast on Tuesday announced fourth-quarter profit of $1.91 billion. Comcast CEO Brian Roberts, shown in 2007, said the company "feels great" about improvement at NBCUniversal. (George Widman / Associated Press)

Cable giant Comcast Corp. proved why it is the envy of the cable industry Tuesday, announcing that profit soared 26% in the fiscal fourth quarter and that it had put the brakes on a troublesome trend of customer losses.

For the three months ended Dec. 31, Comcast added 43,000 net video subscribers -- marking the first time in nearly seven years that the company did not lose more customers than it gained during a quarter.

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Profit increased to $1.91 billion, or 72 cents a share, compared with $1.5 billion, or 56 cents a share, in the year-earlier period.

Comcast fourth-quarter revenue was up 6.2% to $16.9 billion.

"We really have strong momentum across all of our businesses," Comcast Chief Executive Brian Roberts said on an early morning conference call with Wall Street analysts.

Although Comcast has been in conversations with Charter Communications about assisting with Charter's bid to buy Time Warner Cable, Comcast executives declined to discuss their involvement. 

Comcast has expressed interest in buying Time Warner Cable's cable subscribers in the New York region should Charter prevail in its efforts to acquire Time Warner Cable.  That would give Comcast a chokehold on customers along the East Coast of the United States.

At NBCUniversal during the fourth quarter, cable channels USA Network and Bravo, the NBC broadcast network and the Universal Pictures movie studio sparked revenue gains of 7.5% to $6.5 billion.

Operating cash flow, Comcast's metric for profitability, swelled 14.3% to $1.3 billion.

"We feel great about improvement at NBCUniversal, which has exceeded our expectations," Roberts said. "The turnaround in broadcast is happening even faster than we anticipated."

Not even the box-office bomb "47 Ronin" could bring the media company down. Chief Financial Officer Michael Angelakis said Los Angeles-based Universal Pictures generated its biggest box office in the film studio's history, fueled by the blockbuster animated film "Despicable Me 2."

Cable networks generated $2.3 billion in the fourth quarter, up 5.3% compared with the year earlier period. Operating cash flow was up nearly 4% to $929 million for the quarter.

The NBC broadcast network -- which benefited from "Sunday Night Football" and "The Voice," hit $2.2 billion in revenue, up 11.5%. Stronger ratings and higher retransmission fees paid by pay TV operators contributed to the gains.

Operating cash flow at the broadcast unit was up 55% to $140 million.

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Universal Pictures brought in nearly $1.5 billion in revenue,  growth of 5%.  Home video sales of "Despicable Me 2" more than made up for a lousy quarter at the box office with the tanking of the costly Keanu Reeves film "Ronin 47," which has eked out just $38 million at the domestic box office.

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Theme parks have rewarded the increased capital investment made by Comcast since it took over from previous ownership.

Fourth-quarter theme park revenue notched up 8.8% to $566 million as more people flocked to the parks in Orlando and Los Angeles. Operating cash flow increased 4.6% to $257 million.

Comcast announced that it would increase its dividend 15% and buy back $3 billion in company shares in 2014.

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Twitter: @MegJamesLAT

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