NEW YORK – Top U.S. cable operator Comcast Corp. (CMCSA) posted a 64 percent rise in second-quarter net income on Tuesday, boosted by new digital video products such as digital video recorders.
Growth in digital video subscriptions was well above expectations, overshadowing slower growth in high-speed Internet subscribers.
Cable operators like Comcast are betting on new digital video services to counter phone companies, which are aggressively adding video services. At the same time, satellite operators are selling cheaper television service and digital video recorders.
Comcast said net profit rose to $430 million, or 19 cents per share, from $262 million, or 12 cents per share, a year earlier.
Revenue rose 10.5 percent to $5.6 billion.
The results beat Wall Street expectations for profit of 15 cents per share on revenue of $5.55 billion, according to analysts polled by Reuters Estimates.
"We believe ... we can have double-digit revenue, double-digit cash flow, and 20 percent or more free cash flow growth for the next several years," Brian Roberts, chief executive of Comcast, told analysts.
Cable profit margins rose to 40 percent in the quarter, up from 39.7 percent a year earlier, with operating cash flow growing by 13.2 percent.
The rise in net new digital video subscriptions was driven by customers adding digital video recorders and high definition video service.
The company added 284,000 net new digital video subscribers in the quarter, compared with the average Wall Street estimate of about 178,000.
The profit increase came despite a slowdown in high-speed Internet subscriber growth. The company added a net 297,000 new high-speed subscribers in the quarter, down from 327,000 a year earlier and below Wall Street expectations for about 312,000.
Basic video subscribers fell 77,000 in the quarter. Comcast ended the quarter with 21.4 million basic video subscribers.
One analyst said fears of a dramatic slowdown in high-speed subscription growth could be overblown, and the decline in the second quarter is more likely due to seasonal trends of college students returning home rather than competitive pressures.
"The market expectations were consistently too high for all of the (telephone companies) just a few weeks ago, and it appears they were too high for cable," said Craig Moffett, an analyst at Sanford C. Bernstein.
On a six-month basis, Comcast said the rate at which it added new subscribers to high-speed services fell about 1 percent. It added a net 712,000 new high-speed customers in the six months, compared with 720,000 a year earlier -- a marginal decline.
"It's not slowing down," John Alchin, chief financial officer of Comcast, told Reuters.
Comcast and others now are relying on new digital phone services as a main source of growth. The charge has been led by Cablevision Systems Corp. (CVC) and Time Warner Inc.'s (TWX) cable division. Both are expected to post robust phone subscriber growth in the second quarter, analysts said.
Comcast, which has been slow to offer digital phone service (search), added 15,000 new digital phone customers in the second quarter but gained just 2,000 net new phone customers overall.
It plans to roll out digital phone service in earnest in the second half of this year and expects to add about 250,000 new phone customers this year and more than 1 million in 2006.
It said full-year 2005 revenue is expected to grow by about 10 percent. Annual operating cash flow is expected to rise by 14 percent to 15 percent.
In the year, Comcast also expects to gain 2.5 million "revenue generating units," a common industry measure of how many subscriptions to a product are sold.
Comcast shares were up 34 cents to $31.95 on Nasdaq.