Is Comcast Corporation's Great Quarter Masking a Bleak Future?

By Markets Fool.com

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On Monday morning, Comcast reported results for the first quarter of fiscal year 2015. The cable giant beat Wall Street's estimates on both the top and bottom lines, sending Comcast shares as much as 3% higher in the morning session.

The news
Comcast's sales rose 2.6% year-over-year, landing at $17.9 billion. Analysts would have settled for $17.6 billion. The comparison includes some unique revenue sources, such as NBC's exclusive coverage of the Sochi Olympics in 2014 and the same channel airing the 2015 Super Bowl. Excluding these massive one-time sales drivers, the year-over-year boost grows to 7.6%.

Adjusted earnings increased 16% to $0.179 per share. Here, analysts were looking for $0.74 per share.

Comcast added 407,000 net new customers to its high-speed Internet services, while a net 8,000 subscribers signed off from the cable TV service. The two customer segments now run neck and neck with roughly 22.4 million accounts each, and Internet accounts are likely to outgrow the TV service in the coming quarter.

Comcast's broadcast networks increased advertising revenues by 5.5% year-over-year, excluding the one-time sporting events mentioned earlier. The filmed entertainment division, led by Universal Studios and its 50 Shades of Grey blockbuster title, saw 7% higher sales and a 2% boost to operating cash flows.

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Those cash profits would have jumped even higher if Universal wasn't so busy promoting gasoline-powered action flick Furious 7 during the first quarter. That effort should pay off in spades when second-quarter results are reported, given that movie's massive $1.4 billion in global ticket sales -- and counting.

The theme park division recorded a 34% revenue jump and 55% higher operating cash flows, thanks to the successful launch of a Harry Potter section at Orlando's Universal Studios park.

Comcast Chairman and CEO Brian Roberts. Image source: Comcast.

The aborted Time Warner Cable buyout attempt cost Comcast $61 million in the first quarter, reducing the bottom-line earnings by $0.02 per share. There were no billion-dollar breakup fees, no local markets to hand over, no collateral damage of the usual sorts. Comcast made sure to leave these potentially expensive measures out of the Time Warner contract, having seen other big-ticket media industry acquisitions unraveled by antitrust procedures.

Comcast CEO and Chairman Brian Roberts hailed the first quarter as a "great start" to 2015, positioning the company for a strong year. "We begin 2015 with great momentum and remain confident that we are well positioned with an impressive portfolio of complementary businesses to continue our strong performance and drive shareholder value," Roberts said in a press statement.

What's next?
So it's a strong report with growth in most of Comcast's core business operations, with the notable exception of cable TV subscribers.

Image source: Cable Confusion by Eric, on Flickr.

In my view, the cable industry is about to lose its TV-powered luster and start looking a lot like a bundle of commodity Internet services. If the cable giants want to stay strong in the coming era, they had better figure out how to enter the digital entertainment markets in a serious way -- or accept their new role as pure-play data carriers.

Comcast is in a better position than most of its cable industry peers, fortified by the NBCUniversal content production studios. But the management team is still acting as if the cable TV bandwagon will roll on forever -- and it won't.

I'm staying far away from Comcast shares until I see a big attitude adjustment. Why? Because Comcast is ignoring the telltale signs of a whole new business environment even when they show up in the company's own customer mix. For a recent example of a similar situation, you can look at the exodus of landline phone customers in the mobile era. The same thing is happening to the cable guys, whether they like it or not. This time, the customers aren't going mobile -- they're moving online.

Nice quarter, Comcast. But this stock is currently not safe at any speed.

The article Is Comcast Corporation's Great Quarter Masking a Bleak Future? originally appeared on Fool.com.

Anders Bylund owns shares of Google (A shares) and Netflix. The Motley Fool recommends Apple, Google (A and C shares), and Netflix. The Motley Fool also owns shares of Apple, Google (A and C shares), and Netflix. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.