Cable giant Comcast (CMCSA) - Get Comcast Corporation Class A Report , whose 2011 acquisition of NBCUniversal became the template for AT&T's (T) - Get AT&T Inc. Reportdecision Saturday to buy Time Warner (TWX) for $85.4 billion, flexed its entertainment muscles in the third quarter with a surprisingly strong showing from its broadcast of the Rio Olympics.
The nation's largest cable operator said its earnings increased by 15% in the third quarter year over year, to 92 cents a share, beating Wall Street estimates of 91 cents, as it also beat expectations by adding 32,000 new video customers.
Comcast said its revenue increased to $21.3 billion, a 14.2% increase that handily beat consensus estimates of $20.6 billion.
Comcast also said it would pay a quarterly dividend of 27.5 cents a share, in line with its previous quarters.
Despite the results, Comcast shares were down 1.6% to $63.49 in early trading Wednesday.
As Comcast did in 2011, AT&T cited the need to marry its distribution network with movies and TV shows as its rationale for paying $107.50 a share in cash and stock for Time Warner, which at the time of the deal was roughly a 35% premium for the parent company of the Warner Brothers studio and the HBO premium cable channel.
"Premium content always wins," AT&T chairman and CEO Randall Stephenson said in announcing the deal. "It has been true on the big screen, the TV screen and now it's proving true on the mobile screen. We'll have the world's best premium content with the networks to deliver it to every screen."
Comcast CEO Brian Roberts would not address the pending AT&T-Time Warner transaction in a conference call with analysts following its earnings announcement.
Instead, the executive focused on the Summer Olympic Games. "The Rio Olympics were the most profitable and successful games in our history," Roberts said.
The two-week event generated $1.6 billion in revenue for Comcast's NBCUniversal unit in the quarter, the company said, helping to boost the content unit's operating cash flow by 31.5%. Advertising at its NBC broadcast network was $1.2 billion, with its brace of cable channels generating another $439 million in ad sales from the games.
Comcast also continued to defy industry trends by adding subscribers in the quarter, recording its best third quarter in 10 years. Cable and satellite companies have been losing subscribers in recent years as more consumers cut the cord and watch video over online services such as
Prime Video service. Analysts
for the second quarter in a row.
Instead, Comcast now has added subscribers in two of the past three quarters. It serves nearly 22.4 million video subscribers, 170,00 more than a year ago. Overall, the company said it has 28.3 million customer "relationships," adding 330,000 new high-speed customers and 2,000 additional customers who take voice services over its cable system.
The cable operator has fought the trend in subscriber losses in recent quarters by beefing up its video offerings on its X1 set-top box platform, which offers video on demand offerings that it has said reduces churn, or those customers who end their subscriptions. About 45% of its customers get the X1 service, the company said.
Comcast also began selling Netflix subscriptions through its X1 service this year.
Operating earnings from Comcast's cable TV unit increased by 5.5%, to $5 billion in the quarter, on the strength of the added customers and rate hikes that offset a 11.4% hike in content costs, which included those associated with its sports contracts, the company said.
Comcast's one weak spot was its NBCUniversal film studio, where revenue declined by 7.9% and cash flow by 6.1%. The movie unit, whose films in the quarter were led by the hit The Secret Life of Pets, failed to match last year's more robust slate that included JurassicWorld and Minions.
NBCUniversal's overall revenue increased by 28.3%, to $9.2 billion, as growth by its NBC network, cable channels and Universal theme park operations offset the studio decline.
The company's theme parks benefited from Comcast's September acquisition of a majority stake in the Universal Studios Japan theme park from owners that included Goldman Sachs (GS) - Get Goldman Sachs Group, Inc. Report . Revenue at its theme park unit increased by 60.6% and earnings by 62.4%.
This article is commentary by an independent contributor. At the time of publication, the author held positions in Comcast, AT&T and Netflix.