By Samrhitha A and Helen Coster
NEW YORK (Reuters) -Comcast's quarterly revenue topped Wall Street estimates on Thursday as growth in its streaming and theme parks businesses, including a widely watched NFL playoff game, more than offset further losses of broadband subscribers.
In a call with investors, CEO Brian Roberts appeared to address questions about whether the company will acquire other media assets.
"While there may be speculation of what we could do next, I'd like you to hear it directly from me. I love the company we have. So the bar continues to be even higher for us to do anything other than the plan you heard today," Roberts said.
Shares of the media giant rose more than 4% as the company reported revenue growth of 2.3% to $31.25 billion in the fourth quarter, beating analysts' estimates of $30.51 billion, according to LSEG data.
Comcast lost 34,000 broadband customers in the quarter, fewer than a FactSet forecast for a loss of 61,000 customers, but exceeding the 18,000 broadband customers it lost in the previous quarter.
Finance chief Jason Armstrong said the broadband marketplace remains extremely competitive. "While we do not expect subscriber trends to improve in the coming quarters, we do expect them to improve over time," he said.
The company has faced pressure from wireless carriers such as Verizon and T-Mobile, which offer broadband services that target lower-income customers.
LOSSES PEAK AT PEACOCK
Revenue at the company's Peacock streaming service rose 56.5% from a year earlier, surpassing $1 billion in quarterly revenue for the first time to $1.03 billion. Paid subscribers increased by 3 million in the fourth quarter, to 31 million.
"Peacock exceeding the billion-dollar revenue mark in the fourth quarter while stanching its losses is a validation of its decision to lean into sports," said Insider Intelligence senior analyst Max Willens.
2023 marked the peak in annual losses at Peacock and for 2024 the company expects to show meaningful improvement. Advertising at Peacock surged 50% again, excluding the World Cup, hitting an all-time high.
The company has been investing in live programming in an effort to draw more viewers to Peacock. This month, Peacock was the first streaming service to exclusively air an NFL playoff game.
The Kansas City Chiefs and the Miami Dolphins game averaged 23 million viewers and became the most-streamed event in U.S. history.
Airing the game exclusively on Peacock was "a kick in the teeth to the linear ecosystem and its distributors," MoffettNathanson analyst Craig Moffett said.
The moves were emblematic of the broader challenge facing not only Comcast but all streamers who still have a foot in the linear model, Moffett said.
Comcast reported a 5.7% rise in revenue in its content and experiences segment, which includes NBCUniversal, to $11.5 billion.
Hits like "Oppenheimer", "Super Mario Bros. Movie" and "Fast X" drove Comcast's Universal Pictures to the number 1 spot at the worldwide box office for 2023 - the first time since 2015 that Walt Disney was not the leader.
Revenue in its theme parks business rose 12.2%, to $2.37 billion, boosted by attendance at the Super Nintendo World in Japan and Hollywood.
The company raised its dividend by $0.08, to $1.24 per share on an annualized basis for 2024.
(Reporting by Helen Coster in New York and Samrhitha Arunasalam in Bengaluru; Editing by David Gregorio)