Brian Roberts Comcast
Brian Roberts, CEO of Comcast Corp. Reuters/Brian Snyder

Comcast Corp. (Nasdaq: CMCSA) is expected to report higher third-quarter earnings Friday as television ratings improved for NBC, summer movies exceeded expectations at Universal Studios and the back-to-school season lifted cable activity for America’s largest pay-TV provider.

Analysts polled by Thomson Reuters expect the Philadelphia-based telecom giant to report net income of $1.2 billion, or 46 cents per share, a 7.8 percent increase over last year’s $912 million, or 33 cents per share. Comcast’s revenue is expected to top out at just over $16 billion, up 12.2 percent from $14.3 billion for the same period last year.

“Top-line growth will likely be driven by steady [average revenue per user] increases and a seasonally better quarter at cable,” said Amy Yong, an analyst for Macquarie Capital. “Continued [small and medium-sized enterprise] growth and political advertising will also be a tailwind on the cable side. On the [NBCUniversal] side, Comcast will benefit from significant ad growth from the Olympics [$1.25 billion] as well as better ratings at its cable networks and broadcast. The company also had several hits on the film side, including ‘Ted’ and the ‘Bourne Legacy.’”

NBCUniversal, in which Comcast has owned a majority stake since 2011, was a robust asset for the corporation in the quarter ended Sept. 30. NBC’s exclusive coverage of the 2012 London Olympics, despite wide criticism from viewers about the network’s decision to broadcast the games on a tape delay, proved to be ratings gold for the Peacock network, surpassing projections by Nielsen Media Research. The ratings defied general downward trends in event television viewing prompted by an increasingly fragmented media environment. More than 210 million people tuned in for at least some of the Olympic Games.

More recently, Sunday Night Football, which kicked off the season on Sept. 5, bolstered NBC’s ratings. Earlier this month, NBC announced that the weekly NFL games have logged the highest ratings in their seven-year history on the network, with 23.3 million viewers through their first four Sundays. The last Sunday in that period fell one day before the end of the third quarter.

“The Voice,” the reality competition show that premiered April 2011, also hit a ratings stride during the quarter.

Comcast has reported steady momentum since buying NBCUniversal in early 2011, a move that turned the family-owned cable company into a major media conglomerate. Comcast controls a 51 percent stake in NBCUniversal against a 49 percent stake controlled by former owner GE (NYSE: GE).

At Universal Studios, two mid-summer releases performed particularly well. “Ted,” the Seth MacFarlane comedy released June 29, far exceeded industry expectations, taking in a worldwide box-office gross of $469 million to become the highest-grossing R-rated comedy in history. The spy thriller “The Bourne Legacy,” released on July 30, raked in an additional worldwide gross of $236.8 million.

Universal’s well-performing mid-summer releases offset two notable flops from the studio earlier in the summer: the board-game inspired “Battleship” and the Judd Apatow-produced comedy “The Five-Year Engagement.” At a conference call for the second quarter on June 1, Brian Roberts, Comcast’s CEO, acknowledged “Battleship” as “a large miss.”

Despite the miss, Comcast in September extended Roberts’ employment contract through June 2013.

At the Universal Studios theme parks in California and Florida, attractions based on the continually popular “Harry Potter” and “Transformers” franchises boosted seasonal attendance in the third quarter, with estimated revenue of $609 million and estimated operating cash flow of $256 million, according to Macquarie.

Comcast is the largest cable provider in the United States, an industry that has grown increasingly crowded over the last decade. On the cable side of Comcast’s business, analysts see competition from pay-TV services such as DirecTV and Verizon FiOS as easing up.

“With Verizon indicating a less aggressive FiOS net add target on its second-quarter earnings call, investors have been anticipating an improved competitive environment in Pay TV,” wrote Mike McCormack, an analyst at Nomura, in an Oct. 17 preview note on the cable and satellite industry.

Yong wrote that analysts at Macquarie anticipate “marginal year-over-year improvements in video, high-speed data and phone driven by lower churn, continued investments, and a focus on back-to-school activity.”

In a research report on Oct. 19, Yong rated Comcast’s stock as “Outperform,” agreeing with analyst consensus.

Comcast shares closed Wednesday at $36.34.