Comcast has its content and broadcasts it, too. On the content side, the company owns NBCUniversal, including the NBC TV network and movie studios Universal Pictures and DreamWorks Animation. Cable channels CNBC, MSNBC, and the USA Network are also under the Comcast tent. As for distribution, Comcast is one of the biggest pay-TV providers in the US with more than 29 million subscribers to one or more of its cable services. Its broadband internet service has about 25 million subscribers and its voice service has more than 11.5 million customers. Other Comcast properties include the Universal Studios theme parks and Telemundo, a leading Spanish-language TV network in the US. In 2018, Comcast expanded to Europe with its $39 billion acquisition of Sky, a UK-based telecommunications and media provider.
Comcast generates revenue in five business segments led by the cable communications service that accounts for about 60% of revenue. Then come the cable networks, about 15% of revenue, broadcast TV, more than 10% of revenue, and filmed entertainment and theme parks, a bit more than 5% each.
Comcast hasn't forgotten its hometown roots in Philadelphia. Through its majority-owned subsidiary Comcast Spectacor, the company owns Philadelphia's NHL franchise, the Flyers, as well as the team’s arena, the Wells Fargo Center. The subsidiary also manages other venues used for sporting events and music concerts in Philadelphia, as well as related service businesses including Ovations Food Services and facilities management provider Global Spectrum.
Comcast has operations of one kind or another in all 50 states. Its cable communications operations are along the East Coast, in the South, the Midwest, the West Coast, and Pacific Northwest. The company owns and operates about 10 NBC-affiliate TV stations in the some of the top markets in the country.
Sales and Marketing
Comcast offers its services directly to residential and business customers through call centers, door-to-door selling, direct mail advertising, television advertising, internet advertising, local media advertising, telemarketing, and retail outlets. The company spends about $6 billion a year on advertising, marketing, and promotion.
Comcast posted higher top and bottom lines in 2017, continuing a decade-long rise in revenue and a seven-year increase in net income. Abetting the streak were the acquisition of NBCUniversal and of DreamWorks Animation SKG in 2016.
The Cable Communications segment’s revenue increased 5% in 2017 with growth in video and high-speed internet services while voice posted lower revenue. Average monthly revenue per residential customer relationship rose to about $151 in 2017 from about $148 in 2016. The company gained in single product and double product customers while the number of triple and quad product customers declined. Business service moved higher in 2017, becoming a $6 billion a year business for Comcast.
NBCUniversal revenue rose 4% in 2017 on higher sales in cable networks, movies, and theme parks, while broadcast TV sales slipped (from lower ad revenue in a non-Olympic year). Well-performing movies were The Fate of the Furious, Fifty Shades Darker, and Despicable Me 3. More visitors spending more money drove theme park revenue higher in 2017.
Net income more than doubled to nearly $23 billion, lifted by a one-time tax benefit of about $13 billion from the US Tax Cuts and Jobs Act signed into law late in 2017. Profit rose about 10% to about $10 billion not counting the tax benefit.
Comcast generated $9.6 billion in free cash flow in 2017 and returned $7.9 billion of capital to shareholders in stock buybacks and dividends.
Comcast jumped into the European market with its $39 billion acquisition of Sky in 2018. IK-based Sky, the biggest group in Europe, offers telecommunications services and media content.
To stanch the flow of video cable customers from its services, Comcast has bundled multiple services and offered slimmed-down cable deals (fewer, more selective channels) to attract and retain customers. The company also has improved its customer service, reducing wait times, increasing on-time arrivals, and adding representatives to its customer call centers.
The changes might be paying off: Comcast added cable subscribers in 2016 and 2017 after losing some 230,000 cable customers in 2014 and 2015. Comcast and other cable providers have lost customers -- called cord cutters -- who prefer to get their entertainment from streaming services such as Netflix, YouTube, Hulu, and other over-the-top services. In an offering to keep subscribers, Comcast includes Netflix in some service bundles, adding Netflix fees to the Comcast bill.
Another factor has been Comcast's X1 platform, a cloud-based set-top box that offers live video, on-demand video, and digital video recording. The service is available to Comcast customers across the country. Besides added revenue from the X1 services, Comcast looks for additional advertising revenue by using data gained from viewer habits to customize ad targeting.
Adding to its array of services, Comcast in 2017 rolled out wireless phone service to its internet customers. Called Xfinity Mobile, the service offers several calling plans and had gained about 580,000 users (it’s available only to those who subscribe to other Comcast services). Comcast leases space on Verizon’s network, which might hinder its ability to compete.
Mergers and Acquisitions
In 2018 Comcast's $39 billion bid won a battle to buy Sky, a UK-based broadcaster that's the biggest cable group in Europe. The offer was higher than that of Twenty-First Century Fox, whose bid was backed by the Walt Disney Co. (which in the process of buying Twenty-First Century Fox). The deal expands Comcast's reach in Europe and adds a significant number of customers. Sky's role as a telecommunications provider and a media provider parallels Comcast's role in the US.
In 2019 Comcast bought BluVector, which uses artificial intelligence and machine learning to provide cybersecurity protection to companies and government agencies. Verizon and BluVector are to build BluVector’s existing business and to develop new cybersecurity technologies. Terms were not disclosed.
In 2016 NBCUniversal acquired DreamWorks Animation SKG Inc., a maker of animated movies and TV shows, for about $3.8 billion. This acquisition of the maker of films such as Shrek and Kung Fu Panda series was made to bolster Comcast’s offerings for children’s pictures for theatrical release.
Comcast acquired 51% of Universal Studios Japan for $1.5 billion in 2015. The deal gives Comcast control of the Universal theme park in Osaka, Japan.
In 1963 Ralph Roberts, Daniel Aaron, and Julian Brodsky bought American Cable Systems in Tupelo, Mississippi. The company soon expanded throughout the state. In 1969 the company got a new name: Comcast, combining "communications" and "broadcast." Two years later Comcast acquired franchises in western Pennsylvania, and when it went public in 1972, it moved to Philadelphia.
Comcast bought up local operations nationwide through the early 1980s and gained its first foreign cable franchise in 1983 in London (it sold its affiliate there to NTL -- now Virgin Media-- in 1998). It took a 26% stake in the large Group W Cable in 1986. Roberts also lent financial support that year to a fledgling home-shopping channel called QVC-- for "quality, value, and convenience."
A big step into telecommunications came in 1988 when Comcast bought American Cellular Network, with Delaware and New Jersey franchises. Two years later Roberts' son Brian -- who had trained as a cable installer during a summer away from college -- became Comcast's president.
In 1992 Comcast bought Metromedia's Philadelphia-area cellular operations and began investing in fiber-optic and wireless phone companies. By then the company was a major QVC shareholder. With an eye toward Comcast's programming needs, Brian persuaded FOX network head Barry Diller to become QVC's chairman. But when Diller tried to use QVC to take over CBS, Comcast bought control of QVC in 1994 to quash the bid, which went against cross-ownership bans. To pay for QVC, Comcast had to sell its 20% stake in cable firm Heritage Communications in 1995. Diller left the company to oversee for a time InterActiveCorp, parent of QVC's archrival HSN). Also in 1995 Comcast funded former Disney executive Richard Frank to launch the C3 (Comcast Content and Communication) programming company.
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