The Big Bad Wolf of the cable world may be getting a little less bad and is definitely getting a little bigger. Comcast Corp., the biggest cable provider in America, added 53,000 net video subscribers in the first three months of 2016, according to the company’s latest quarterly results, which were released Wednesday morning. That makes it Comcast’s best first quarter for video in nine years and beats even the most optimistic analyst estimates, which ranged from around 32,000 to 35,000 net adds.
The company now has 22.4 million video customers, 23.8 million internet customers and 27.97 million overall.
Comcast CEO Brian Roberts attributed this growth to better customer service (no, really!) and better actual TV and internet service through its fancy new X1 cable system. “I believe our cable business is really differentiating itself,” Roberts said on the company’s earnings call. That includes voice remotes, a bigger on-demand selection and, theoretically, an easier way to access the shows you want to watch — even if you’re not at home.
Again, it’s not necessarily that more people are jumping into the pay TV pool. The number of pay TV customers has been fairly stable over the last two years, according to research from Leichtman Research Group (LRG). What’s happening is a shift.
AT&T, which owns pay TV providers DirecTV and U-Verse, revealed Tuesday afternoon that it lost 54,000 video subscribers in the same three months, despite DirecTV adding a massive 328,000 net TV customers. The problem? U-Verse lost 382,000 TV customers. Satellite provider Dish lost 23,000 TV customers from January through March.
Recall, too, that the first three months of the year are generally the best for pay TV companies. Verizon FiOS added 36,000 customers in the time period. Time Warner Cable, which just won regulatory approval for its merger with Charter (pending conditions are met), looks to continue its own positive trend with 30,000 estimated net TV additions, according to analyst firm MoffettNathanson. Time Warner Cable reports its earnings Thursday.
Still, that’s no reason to ding Comcast’s growth. As LRG’s president and principal analyst Bruce Leichtman says, “A video subscriber is a video subscriber.” It doesn’t even appear that Comcast is inflating these additions with copious numbers of “skinny” bundles that offer fewer channels for a lower price: The amount of money Comcast receives from its TV subscribers per month is actually up from last year.
Overall revenue for the communications conglomerate, which also owns NBC Universal, hit $18.8 billion just for this first quarter. If you exclude NBC’s airing of Super Bowl XLIX in February 2015, which brought in $376 million, that’s 7.5 percent growth from the same three months in 2015. Revenues for all the company’s segments — video and internet subscriptions, broadcast and cable networks, films, and theme parks — beat consensus expectations.
Comcast shares were steady with the previous close as of press time.