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Comcast to Wrap Wideband, All-Digital Rollout This Year

Jeff Baumgartner
LR Cable News Analysis
Jeff Baumgartner

Comcast Corp. (Nasdaq: CMCSA, CMCSK) expects to wrap up its network deployment of Docsis 3.0 and complete most of its ambitious $1 billion analog reclamation project in 2010.

The MSO revealed that updated timeframe today while announcing fourth-quarter numbers that beat Wall Street expectations.

Comcast ended 2009 with 75 percent of its plant wired for Docsis 3.0, a CableLabs -specified platform that allows the operator to deliver 100Mbit/s cable modem services. The MSO expects to have its entire footprint wideband-ready by "early 2010." That's faster than expected -- Comcast had previously discussed completing the D3 network build by the end of 2010.

As for "Project Cavalry" -- an all-digital initiative that allows the recapturing of 40 to 50 analog channels for greatly expanded high-definition TV and video-on-demand services -- Comcast completed about 35 percent of that last year, and expects to have it "substantially complete" this year. Comcast, which just notified Colorado customers that the project is getting underway, has Cavalry started or complete in at least 17 markets, and roughly 60 percent of its footprint. (See Comcast's $1B Bandwidth Plan and Comcast Lights Up DTA Encryption .)

Comcast has already deployed about 6.2 million Digital Terminal Adapter (DTA) devices in support of Project Cavalry so far, MSO CFO Michael Angelakis said on this morning's earnings call.

Comcast beats the Street
On the financial front, Comcast's fourth-quarter numbers beat Wall Street expectations thanks to a surge in revenues and net income brought on by advanced service subscription growth.

Table 1: By the Numbers

Q4 2008 Q4 2009 Change (%)
Revenues ($B) 8.81 9.06 3%
Net Income ($B) 0.41 0.95 132%
EPS ($) 0.14 0.33 136%
Source: Comcast

Table 2: Comcast Vs. Wall Street
Analysts' Consensus Estimate Q4 2009 Actual Q4 2009
Revenues ($B) 8.96 9.06
EPS ($) 0.27 0.33
Source: Comcast, Thomson Reuters

However, Comcast's basic video sub base continues to erode. It lost 199,000 basics in the fourth quarter, down from the 233,000 it lost in the year-ago quarter, causing a decline in video-related revenues. For 2009, Comcast lost a total of 623,000 basics.

But Comcast continued to backfill those losses with gains in its advanced service categories, including high-speed data, digital video, and digital voice. Comcast's data and Internet subscription adds remained strong, but it gained fewer voice customers in the fourth quarter than it did in the year-ago period.

Table 3: Q4 Subscriber Growth Comparison
Q4 2008 Q4 2009 Cumulative Sub Total (End of Q4)
Total video net adds -233,000 -199,000 +23.55 million
Digital video adds +247,000 +410,000 +18.41 million
High-speed Internet adds +184,000 +247,000 +15.93 million
Digital voice adds +344,000 +243,000 +7.62 million
Source: Comcast

Comcast is also spending less overall. Last year's capital expenditures came in at $5.1 billion, down from $5.7 billion in 2008. The company expects 2010 capex to come in under 2009's in both straight dollars and as a percentage of revenue.

Other quick nuggets from this morning's call:

  • Comcast is rebranding its "technology platform and products" under the "Xfinity" umbrella in 11 markets, including Boston; Philadelphia; Baltimore; Washington; Chicago; Portland, Ore.; Seattle; Hartford, Conn.; Augusta, Maine; Chatanooga, Tenn.; and parts of the Bay Area, starting February 12. It'll rebrand in the majority of its markets by year's end, taking on the moniker already being used for its recently launched "TV Everywhere" product. With that in mind, the MSO will be recasting services as Xfinity TV, Xfinity Voice, and Xfinity Internet -- a strategy that partly mimics Cablevision Systems Corp. (NYSE: CVC)'s and its use of the "Optimum" brand. This blog post has more info. (See Comcast's 'Xfinity' Goes Live and Comcast to Expand 'Xfinity' to DSL Subs.)

  • The MSO is pursuing a cell backhaul strategy, a market that, it believes, could be worth up to $1 billion.

  • Comcast took a $81 million severance charge in the fourth quarter tied to an undisclosed number of layoffs.

  • Comcast has Enhanced TV Binary Interchange Format (EBIF) enabled in 12 million set-tops, and is leveraging the technology to help pilot a request for information (RFI) advanced ad campaign in Chicago, San Francisco, and Detroit in conjunction with Canoe Ventures LLC .

— Jeff Baumgartner, Site Editor, Cable Digital News

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