Last Friday morning Comcast reported strong Q3 '12 results, including its 8th straight quarter of lower year-over-year video subscriber losses. For Q3 '12, it lost 117K subscribers, vs. 165K in Q3 '11. This pattern stretches all the way back to Q4 '10, when Comcast lost 135K subscribers, vs. the 199K it lost in Q4 '09. Obviously no business likes to lose customers, but Comcast's (and all cable operators') reality is that with the incursion of telcos and satellite operators, some market fragmentation was inevitable.
On its earnings call, Comcast executives didn't point to any one reason for the ongoing video subscriber improvement, except to point to solid execution and "competing effectively with our improved products and services." Of course it doesn't hurt that the economy and housing have both picked up recently. Comcast's performance is also likely coming at the expense of telcos and satellite operators, whose Q3 results have not yet been fully released.
As significant, Comcast is improving its results in an environment where chatter about cord-cutting is as prevalent as ever. Of course, there have been no definitive conclusions about cord-cutting behavior, and as I've suggested recently, even the very definition of "cord-cutting" is not agreed upon. For their part, Wall Street's analysts don't seem overly concerned; the topic of cord-cutting never even came up on Comcast's earnings call. My guess is that cord-cutting is less the issue than is "cord-nevering" - primarily younger people who simply don't adopt pay-TV services as they used to, mainly for affordability reasons.
Affordability remains a critical issue, though it doesn't seem to be affecting Comcast's results much. Comcast revealed that its total revenue per video subscriber (a much-watched data point) rose 8.7% in Q3 to a whopping $151/month. Fully 40% of its subscribers now take the bundle of video, broadband and voice services from Comcast, up from 36% a year ago.
Even as connected devices and online-only programming choices are proliferating, creating more cord-free viewing opportunities, Comcast's Q3 results suggest consumer spending patterns are not yet shifting much.
(Note: Comcast's performance and the pay-TV industry relative to cord-cutting will be a key part of our conversation with 4 top Wall Street cable/broadband/Internet/media analysts at VideoSchmooze on Dec. 5th in NYC. Early bird discounted registration is available here.)
Categories: Cable TV Operators