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Comcast 3Q profit, sales top estimates thanks to upbeat subs

PHILADELPHIA — Comcast Corp., the nation’s largest provider of cable TV and Internet services, more than doubled its net income in the third quarter, chiefly due to the sale of wireless spectrum and its stake in the A&E TV channel.

Underlying results were strong, however, as cable TV saw fewer cancelations than expected and the expensive-to-produce London Olympics broke even on NBC.

Net income rose to $2.11 billion, or 78 cents per share, in the three months through September from $908 million, or 33 cents per share, a year earlier.

Excluding gains from the sale of spectrum to Verizon Wireless for $2.3 billion and the sale of the 16 percent A&E TV stake to Disney and Hearst for $3 billion, earnings came to 46 cents per share, matching the expectation of analysts polled by FactSet. That figure was up 39 percent from the comparable one last year.

Revenue grew 15 percent to $16.54 billion, blowing past the $16.07 billion expected by analysts.

Comcast’s shares rose $1.02, or 2.8 percent, to $37.38 in afternoon trading. The shares are close to the all-time high of $37.60 hit a week ago.

The Philadelphia-based company lost 117,000 video subscribers in the quarter, leaving it with about 22 million. Video subscriber losses have slowed for eight quarters in a row, which the company said was due to better customer service and fewer in-person service calls. Analysts were looking for an average decline of 123,000.

Comcast is mainly losing subscribers to telecom and satellite TV providers. Verizon and AT&T already reported combined gains in the quarter of 317,000.

Comcast added 287,000 Internet customers, beating the 273,000 expected, giving it more than 19 million. It gained a net 123,000 voice customers, also beating the 116,000 gain expected.

More video customers signed up for all three services and the revenue it made from every video customer grew 9 percent to $150.73 a month. That’s up from $111.32 four years ago.

An increasing number of customers added advanced products such as high-definition digital video recorders, which helped boost revenue per video customer, even though some analysts were expecting a decline.

The good news on the Olympics wasn’t a surprise after NBCUniversal CEO Steve Burke said on Aug. 1 that the Games would likely break even rather than cause a $200 million loss, as was predicted earlier. The company decided to telecast events live on its website but wait several hours before airing them again in prime time in the U.S. The move ended up helping audience ratings, not hurting them, as the buzz on social media helped drive viewers to their living rooms.

Comcast said it took in $1.19 billion in revenue for the Olympics alone during the quarter, topping the $1.18 billion it paid for the rights. The company also spent production dollars on camera crews, announcers and the like.

The money helped NBCUniversal, which saw revenue rise 31 percent to $6.82 billion. Excluding the Olympics bump, revenue still grew 8 percent.

Broadcast ad revenue at NBC more than doubled to $1.99 billion, and rose 9 percent excluding the Olympics.

Ad revenue on pay TV networks such as Bravo, CNBC, MSNBC and NBC Sports was up less than 1 percent to $807 million.

It wasn’t immediately clear if pay TV network advertising revenue would have fallen without the boost from the Olympics.