Skip to Content

Cord-Cutters Hurt Comcast Less Than Its Own Movies Last Quarter

The movie "Warcraft" was distributed by Universal Pictures.The movie "Warcraft" was distributed by Universal Pictures.
The movie "Warcraft" was distributed by Universal Pictures.Photo courtesy of Legendary Pictures

Executives at most traditional media giants may still wake up in cold sweats, muttering the phrase “cord-cutters” over and over, but Comcast just reported yet another round of quarterly earnings in which the telecom effectively shrugged off the effects of customers shifting away from cable.

On Wednesday, Comcast reported a net loss of 4,000 pay-television subscribers in the second quarter. And, while a shrinking subscriber base is never a great sign, that number represented a milder drop-off than Wall Street expected and it was a significant improvement over the 69,000 subscribers lost in the same quarter in 2015. Add to that the fact that Comcast actually had a 53,000-subscriber bump in the first quarter of 2016 and one might think the ongoing hand-wringing over the cord-cutting trend may be somewhat overblown, or that Comcast is simply handling the shift in consumer habits more effectively than other traditional media companies.

As Fortune‘s Matthew Ingram pointed out in April, following Comcast’s first-quarter earnings report, the answer could be a bit of each, as the imminent death of cable is likely an exaggerated talking point while companies like Comcast have also done a decent job of evolving their cable-TV products and offering a wider variety of options to customers. Comcast says it has seen success with its new X1 set-top box, which offers a blend of Internet service and traditional cable (and which now allows customers to stream Netflix). The company said Wednesday that almost 40% of its video customers now use the X1 service.

Still, Comcast and other media entities shouldn’t rest completely easy on the cord-cutting front, as MoffettNathanson analyst Craig Moffett told investors on Wednesday that “cord-cutting remains quiescent, at least for now.”

Meanwhile, cord-cutting ended up being the least of Comcast’s concerns in the second quarter, as the company reported a 2.8% increase in second-quarter revenue only to see quarterly profit dip 5% thanks to a major drop-off in sales from the NBCUniversal film division.

Comcast got bit at the box office, as big-budget films Warcraft and The Huntsman: Winter’s War flopped with domestic moviegoers, dragging Universal’s film studio revenue down 40% to $1.35 billion last quarter. Of course, part of that drop-off can be attributed to the fact that in the same quarter last year, Universal was toasting the success of mega-blockbusters Furious 7 and Jurassic World—both of which made more than $1.5 billion globally last year, with Jurassic World setting a record for the biggest-ever global opening weekend.

This year, though, Comcast’s second-quarter box office was marked by a tepid response to The Huntsman sequel, while Warcraft failed to make a big splash in the U.S. despite pulling in solid sales overseas. Another sequel, Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising, also failed to live up to its predecessor, grossing a little more than one-third of the 2014 original’s $150 million domestic haul, according to Box Office Mojo. The films weren’t total flops, but they didn’t come close to living up to last year’s second-quarter crop for Universal.

In a statement, Comcast CEO Brian Roberts noted: “Despite an expected difficult comparison to last year’s record second quarter film slate, NBCUniversal achieved solid results, driven by strength in our TV businesses and theme parks.”

Fortunately for Comcast and Universal, though, the outlook for the current quarter is looking much brighter, thanks to the runaway success of animated film The Secret Life of Pets (more than $333 million in global ticket sales on a reported $75 million budget) as well as a strong showing from horror sequel The Purge: Election Year ($90 million on a minuscule $10 million budget). Universal also has another potential blockbuster waiting in the wings with Jason Bourne, as actor Matt Damon returns to that action franchise this weekend.

Those movies also have a tough act to follow—as Comcast scored big in last year’s third quarter with animate hit Minions, N.W.A. biopic Straight Outta Compton, and Amy Schumer comedy vehicle Trainwreck—but they’re already looking much stronger than the company’s weak second-quarter offerings.