Strong 3Q Sub Growth for Comcast


Comcast Corp. reported very strong third-quarter results, adding 8,500 basic subscribers -- despite losing 10,000 customers due to hurricanes in Florida -- and blowing through analysts’ estimates for digital-cable and high-speed-Internet customer growth.

Comcast added 549,000 high-speed-Internet customers, above analysts’ estimates of 400,000-450,000 additions, and 341,000 digital customers, above predictions of 230,000-300,000 additions, during the period.

In a conference call with analysts, Comcast chief operating officer Steve Burke said the difference in high-speed-Internet additions was due to a targeted “back-to-school” marketing push in the period that cost about $30 million.

“We spent about $30 million more on high-speed data than we planned and we got 100,000 incremental customers out of it,” Burke said on the call, adding that those customers are expected to generate an additional $50 million in annual revenue.

“That’s a pretty good trade-off,” Burke said.

As a result, Comcast increased its guidance for high-speed-Internet additions to 1.6 million-1.7 million for the full year, up from 1.5 million-1.6 million, and to 1 million additions for digital cable, at the high-end of its previous range of 700,000-1 million. Digital penetration is about 39%, Comcast said.

High-speed-data penetration is now at 17%, and Burke said growing to 10 million customers -- Comcast currently has 6.5 million -- is not an insurmountable goal.

Although Burke would not say when Comcast would reach that milestone, he added, “I don’t think it will take too long. The original business plan for high-speed data had us way below where we are today in terms of penetration. I think we keep raising it over time, and my feeling is that 10 million is not going to be the ending point, that we will go beyond 10 million. There are a variety of things that can be sort of after-burners in the high-speed-data business as people develop new applications to take us beyond 10 million.”

Comcast also had strong results in advanced services in the quarter. The MSO said it is adding 15,000 HDTV boxes per week, and it should end the year with 1 million HDTV customers. Digital-video recorders, now available in all of Comcast’s markets, are attracting 10,000 new customers per week.

On the telephony front, Comcast is testing voice-over-Internet-protocol telephony in three markets, and it should roll out new markets in 2005. While the tests are going well, Comcast does not expect a real impact from VoIP service until 2006.

Revenue rose about 10.6% to $4.84 billion and cash flow was up 14.6% to $1.858 billion in the quarter.