• For Comcast, Another Quarter of Strong Improvement in Video

    Comcast reported its Q2 ’16 earnings this morning, once again showing strong improvement in video subscribers and keeping cord-cutting in check. The second quarter is always seasonally slow in the pay-TV business, but Comcast reduced its video subscriber loss to just 4K in Q2 ’16, its best performance in over 10 years. The trend in just the past 4 years is impressive; Comcast has steadily reduced its subscriber loss from minus 69K in Q2 ’15, minus 144K in Q2 ’14 and minus 162K in Q2 ’13.

    As I wrote a few months ago, reviewing Comcast’s Q1 ’15 results, the company is benefiting from the most benign competitive environment it has seen in years. Satellite companies in particular are being hit hard as viewers seek out broadband, interactivity and on-demand viewing where satellite can’t fully compete. Last week Dish said it lost a record 281K subscribers, more than triple its Q1 ’15 loss. DirecTV gained 342K subscribers, mainly because AT&T is migrating its U-Verse subscribers (the company still lost 49K video subscribers overall in Q2).

    Meanwhile Verizon had a particularly weak Q2 due to the 6-week strike that reduced FiOS installs even further. Verizon reported a 41K video subscriber loss compared with a 26K gain in Q2 ’15. But with Verizon acquiring Yahoo this week, building on its strategy in mobile/media/advertising, it remains an open question just how committed Verizon is to FiOS long-term.

    While the competitive environment clearly helped Comcast, the company’s own investments continue to pay off as well. As I’ve written many times before, X1, Comcast’s next-gen set-top box, keeps chugging along, now in nearly 40% of subscribers homes, up from less than a third a year ago. X1 will benefit in Q3 as Comcast showcases tons of streaming events from the Rio Olympics. Later this year, when the Netflix app is integrated into X1 it will receive another bump.

    Also benefiting Comcast’s video performance was its broadband performance, where subscribers were up 220K, vs. 180K in Q2 ’15 and the best in 8 years. Of course, great broadband is the enabler for SVOD and OTT services, and with more viewers watching than ever, broadband has become vital. Nearly 95% of Comcast’s new subscribers in Q2 took either two or three of the company’s services (video, broadband and voice), with broadband no doubt being the core of this.

    While cord-cutting is indeed accelerating (albeit slowly), as I wrote earlier this year, cable operators like Comcast are benefiting by out-innovating satellite and telco. As a result, they’re gaining market share and proving that the multichannel TV value proposition (especially when combined with broadband) can be durable when new value is added (e.g. advanced set-top boxes, deep VOD catalog, easy TV Everywhere access, voice-controlled remotes, etc.).

    There are still many chapters to be written in the long-term evolution of the TV/video business, but for now, Comcast keeps demonstrating it can prosper despite the challenging conditions.