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Cable division lifts Comcast to 5% increase in 3Q profit

Comcast Corp., the nation’s biggest cable television company and Internet service provider, continues to be “The Big Engine That Could,” with growth outstripping that of other cable companies.

On Wednesday, the Philadelphia-based company said its profit rose 5 percent in the third quarter. Both No. 2 Time Warner Cable Inc. and No. 5 Cablevision Systems Corp. last week posted sagging profits for the quarter.

Comcast shares gained 4 cents, less than 1 percent, to close at $23.02.

Comcast’s results were bolstered by strong performance at the cable division. Customers kept cancelling TV service, but at lower rates, and it recruited a healthy number of Internet subscribers.

Results at NBC Universal, which owns TV channels and movie studios, were mixed, as box office performance lagged behind last year’s.

Comcast’s net income rose to $908 million, or 33 cents per share, for the July to September period. That was up from $867 million, or 31 cents per share, a year ago.

Analysts polled by FactSet were expecting 39 cents per share, but Comcast said it had an unusual loss from its investment income, which made a comparison difficult.

Analyst John Hodulik at UBS said all other major financial measures were in line with or above his expectations, and Comcast continues “to set the pace in cable.”

Revenue rose 51 percent to $14.3 billion from $9.5 billion a year ago. Analysts were expecting $14.25 billion. Revenue from last year’s quarter didn’t include NBC Universal.

Comcast lost 165,000 TV subscribers, less than the 275,000 that defected in last year’s third quarter. It gained 261,000 broadband subscribers, an increase from last year, even though sign-ups of new broadband customers have slowed sharply across the industry.

The head of the cable division, Neil Smit, said the growth was simply due to having “a superior product.” The company has recently completed an upgrade of its systems to accommodate modems with higher speeds. Among phone-company competitors, only Verizon Communications Inc. can match those speeds, and that’s as a consequence of a very expensive upgrade of copper phone lines to fiber optics.

Comcast ended the quarter with 17.8 million broadband subscribers. Its 22.4 million cable-TV customers make it not just the largest cable company, but the largest pay-TV company of any kind in the U.S.

The quarter was the first in which Comcast reported the full results for the Universal Orlando theme parks. On July 1, it closed on the purchase of the 50 percent stake of the business that it didn’t own, paying private-equity firm Blackstone Group $1 billion.

The theme parks did well in the quarter, with both revenue and operating income up from last year, helped by “Wizarding World of Harry Potter” attraction.

“We see real opportunities to build the theme parks business,” said CEO Brian Roberts.