NBCUniversal's third-quarter profit jumps 17%, thanks to blockbuster movies and theme parks

NBCUniversal proved that it's no dinosaur.

Amid a fast-evolving media landscape, the Comcast Corp.-owned entertainment company dodged a few asteroids to deliver 17% higher profits in the third quarter, driven by the Universal Pictures blockbusters "Jurassic World" and "Minions" and sustained growth at its theme parks.

"This is the first time any studio has had three films cross the $1-billion mark in worldwide theatrical receipts in the same year," Comcast Chief Executive Brian Roberts told Wall Street analysts Tuesday morning during a conference call to discuss Comcast earnings.

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For the quarter ended Sept. 30, the Philadelphia cable giant exceeded Wall Street revenue and profit expectations.

The cable company posted 11% revenue growth, to $18.7 billion, compared with the year-earlier period. Comcast operating income increased 7% to $4 billion.

Comcast added 156,000 new customers during the quarter. It lost 48,000 cable TV customers (compared with 81,000 lost in the year-earlier period) but made up for the contraction by increasing the number of high-speed Internet and business services subscribers.

NBCUniversal again posted strong results in a period that saw Wall Street dump media stocks due to fears about their long-term growth prospects.

Comcast shares have largely regained ground the company lost during the turbulence that began in August. Comcast shares were trading slightly down on Wall Street on Tuesday morning, to around $61.25 a share.

NBCUniversal's third-quarter revenue increased nearly 21%, to $7.15 billion, compared with the third quarter of 2014. That strength came largeley from Universal Pictures, its Los Angeles-based film studio, and the theme parks.

The company also reported 17% higher operating cash flow of nearly $1.7 billion, compared with the year-earlier period, with each of its four divisions contributing.

Universal film revenue soared 64% to $1.95 billion for the quarter. The studio's three big movies this year have been "Jurassic World," "Furious 7" and "Minions." Operating cash flow soared 150% to $376 million.

"Filmed entertainment continued to blow away even the most optimistic forecasts," Wall Street analyst Craig Moffett wrote in a research report Tuesday morning. "Theme parks have quickly moved from being a hidden gem to a visible juggernaut."

Revenue was up 14% at the theme parks, which include Universal Studios in Orlando and Los Angeles, to $896 million compared with the year-earlier period. Operating cash flow increased 14% to $458 million.

"We are delighted by our progress in theme parks. ... We had record attendance," Roberts said, adding that the company announced during the quarter that it would acquire 51% of Universal Studios Japan.

Even the broadcasting division, which includes the NBC network, had an impressive quarter, with revenue up 11% to $1.97 billion. Broadcast operating cash flow notched up 6% to $150 million.

Revenue generated by the cable TV channels, including USA Network, Bravo, Syfy, CNBC and NBC Sports, increased 7% to $2.4 billion due to higher affiliate fees. The unit, which reported lower ratings for several channels, saw a 4% decline in operating cash flow to $835 million.

"Even cable networks, lately the weak stepsister at an otherwise red-hot NBCUniversal, soundly beat expectations," said Moffett, the analyst.

For the entire company, excluding certain gains and one-time costs, Comcast reported that its adjusted profit per share increased to 80 cents, up from 73 cents a share in the previous-year period.

Twitter: @MegJamesLAT

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