Comcast Corp. announced a 10% increase in its quarterly dividend on Wednesday as fourth-quarter revenue grew thanks to strong performances in its NBCUniversal TV business and the addition of broadband subscribers.
Comcast earned $2.51 billion, or 55 cents per share, on revenue of $28.3 billion during the quarter. That compared with $3.17 per share on revenue of $15 billion during the fourth quarter a year ago, a period that saw a reduction in tax liabilities. Excluding the year-earlier tax benefit, per-share earnings were up 36.2% to 64 cents per share on a pro forma basis. Earnings exceeded Wall Street expectations; analysts polled by Refinitiv had estimated earnings of 62 cents and revenue of $27.5 billion.
Ratings growth at cable news channel MSNBC helped improve the performance at NBCUniversal’s media unit even though the overall TV landscape is challenged by competition from streaming. The unit also benefited from higher fees from cable and satellite carriers and improved revenue from program sales to other networks. Revenue at NBCUniversal, which also includes the TV and film studios, increased 7.1% to $9.4 billion. The company added 351,000 high-speed internet customers, offsetting the continued loss of traditional cable TV subscribers. Comcast now calls those subscribers “customer relationships” and puts the total number at 30.3 million, up 1 million from 2017. It was the 13th straight year of 1 million broadband customer additions, according to Comcast Chairman and Chief Executive Brian Roberts.
The company expects continued growth overseas from the acquisition of European pay-TV provider Sky, as the market for subscription television is not nearly as mature overseas as it is in the U.S. Comcast also believes its recently announced over-the-top streaming service that will carry NBCUniversal product will help meet the growing demand for digital video advertising. The service is expected to launch in 2020. It will carry a lighter advertising load than what viewers see on traditional TV networks.