Jan. 07--The fever seems to have broken at Comcast Corp. as the nation's largest cable operator added TV subscribers in the fourth quarter of 2013.
Over more than six years, Comcast shed more than 2 million TV subscribers as telcos entering the pay-TV business, satellite-TV companies and new Internet video providers chipped away at its customers.
Brian Roberts, chief executive of the cable giant, disclosed the positive development at a conference in Las Vegas without saying how many subscribers Comcast gained.
The company is expected to release the actual numbers in several weeks with fourth-quarter earnings.
Dubbing it an "exciting reversal of trends," Roberts attributed the gain in part to Comcast's new X1 cloud-based channel guide that has lowered customer churn -- or those who purchase and then drop the service. Roberts was speaking at Citigroup's 2014 Internet, Media & Telecommunications Conference.
"It's been a long time coming, but it speaks to the consistent focus the company has had on improving the video experience," said Craig Moffett, one of the nation's leading telecommunications analysts. "Ten years ago, DirecTV had the best video product on the market. Today, that title belongs to Comcast."
Comcast serves about 22 million cable-TV subscribers and before the fourth quarter it had lost TV subscribers for 26 consecutive quarters. While devastating for its revenue, the company also has improved TV customers trends for the last two years with smaller TV customer losses than prior-year losses. Comcast also has operated more efficiently that Time Warner Cable, the nation's second-largest publicly traded cable operator.
Time Warner Cable lost 745,000 TV customers between the third quarter of 2012 and the third quarter of 2013, or about 6 percent of its TV customer base. As of the third quarter of 2013, Time Warner Cable had 11.4 million TV customers.
Over this same period, Comcast -- with about double the TV subscribers -- lost only 355,000 TV customers, or 1.6 percent of its subscriber base.
Comcast stock soared 3.5 percent, or $1.78 to $52.80.