Comcast is America's leading cable television operator, now under the Xfinity brand, and also one of the world's biggest media owners following the acquisition of NBC Universal. That deal followed several earlier attempts to build a content offering, initially through the bolt-on of its own portfolio of cable channels. An ambitious bid to acquire Walt Disney came to nothing in 2004, but five years later the group entered talks with General Electric to acquire a controlling stake in the latter's NBC Universal subsidiary. A deal was agreed at the end of 2009, and was finally cleared by regulators at the beginning of 2011, giving Comcast management control of one of America's most famous TV networks as well as a major movie studio. Despite NBC Universal's continuing challenges, the group bought out GE's remaining stake in NBCU in 2013, more than a year earlier than expected. In Feb 2014, Comcast offered to acquire smaller rival Time Warner Cable for $45bn in a deal that would have merged the #1 and #2 cable networks in the US. Despite more than a year of negotiations with regulators, the deal was eventually abandoned in Apr 2015 after it was referred by the FCC to an administrative hearing.
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Adbrands Weekly Update 2nd Feb 2017: Comcast reported a strong set of results for 2016, which included the company's first net gain in total cable TV customers since 2006. There were also big gains in internet and business customers and advertising, lifting cable revenues to over $50bn for the first time. Those results took analysts slightly by surprise given the general buzz in recent months over cord-cutting. If anything, the reverse appeared to be true, at least in Comcast's case. Group revenues for the year rose almost 8% to $80.4bn, helped along by the Olympics. However, even without that $1.6bn advertising bonanza (and any comparisons with the previous year's Super Bowl), revenues would have risen by over 6%. Another key contributor was the theme parks business where annual revenues jumped by close to 50% as a result of the immense popularity of the new Harry Potter attraction and the purchase of full control of Universal Studios Japan. That offset a decline in Universal filmed entertainment after a record-breaking 2015. Net income was up 7.5% to just over $9.0bn.
Adbrands Weekly Update 22nd Sep 2016: Comcast announced plans to launch its own wireless telecoms service using its own network of 15m Wifi hotspots underpinned by bandwidth leased from Verizon. It plans to market the service only within its existing cable footprint, targeting current or potential customers with an enhanced bundle of services. The service will launch mid-2017. The company declined to disclose details of pricing, but it could potentially be free or well below the four big national carriers. Analysts (and tech giants Apple, Microsoft and Facebook) were excited by the prospect of a mobile service designed primarily for FaceTime, Skype and WhatsApp calling, with traditional wireless connectivity only a secondary consideration.
Adbrands Weekly Update 4th Feb 2016: Media giant Comcast reported strong results for 2015, despite the effect of foreign exchange on its Universal Pictures division. Group revenues rose 8% to $74.5bn, but net income dipped almost 3% to $8.2bn as a result of a higher tax charge. Pretax income was up 7%. The star performer was undoubtedly Universal, where revenues soared by an extraordinary 46% on the back of megahits like Jurassic World. However, it remains a comparatively small part of the overall pie at just $7.3bn. The combined NBCUniversal unit, which also comprises network TV, cable and theme parks, was up 12% to $28.5bn; the core Comcast cable division enjoyed a more modest lift of 6% to $46.9bn.
Adbrands Weekly Update 25th Jun 2015: Ralph Roberts, who led the expansion of Comcast to become the biggest cable operator in the US, has died at the age of 95. Originally an entrepreneur in Muzak systems and men's accessories, he was one of three investors who acquired a small cable TV operator in Mississippi in the early 1960s. As chief executive, he mounted a string of acquisitions to expand the company's footprint over the next 35 years. From 1990 he was aided by his son Brian Roberts, who became president, and is now group CEO. That growth culminated in the purchase of AT&T's cable division in 2001, making Comcast the nation's #1 cable provider. Further bold moves included an attempt to acquire Walt Disney. That bid was rejected by Disney's shareholders but the Roberts had more success with General Electric, from whom they successfully acquired NBC Universal in 2011. His philosophy was partly summed up by something he said in an interview with the New York Times in 2007: "The fundamental fact is that people love television, and if you can provide them with more television, they love it even more."
Adbrands Weekly Update 7th May 2015: Comcast announced better than expected performance for 1Q, cheering those shareholders still peeved by the collapse of the group's attempted takeover of Time Warner Cable. An unexpected decline in cable TV subscribers was offset by strong growth in broadband, which delivered its strongest performance in four years. The group also revealed that, as of this month, its broadband subscriber numbers overtook basic cable TV customers for the first time. The change was seen by many as further evidence of cable-shaving and cable-cutting, as viewers trade down to less comprehensive channel packs, or cut their cable subscription altogether in favour of "over-the-top" streaming from the likes of Netflix. Profits for the quarter rose 10% to almost $2.1bn on revenues up 3% to $17.4bn.
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