Comcast Cable Boss Talks Rising Content Costs, Pay-TV Sub Trends

"I am more focused on creating value than cutting costs on the programming side," Neil Smit tells an investor conference.

Comcast Cable CEO Neil Smit on Monday discussed rising programming costs and improving pay-TV subscriber trends at an investor conference. He once again signaled that quarterly video subscribers could eventually record growth.

Speaking at the Deutsche Bank 2013 Media, Internet & Telecom Conference in Palm Beach, Fla., Smit said, "Programming cost is always something we are concerned about."

Asked about possible threats to take down networks, Smit said his team was "conscientious" about rising costs, but emphasized: "We're focused on providing value to the customer [via great content and discovery]. We have very good relations with programmers. Generally speaking, I am more focused on creating value than cutting costs on the programming side."

After a 7 percent program-cost increase last year, he said Comcast will see low double-digit percentage gains in 2013 due to recent carriage-deal renewals with Walt Disney, especially ESPN, and News Corp./Fox and retransmission consent fees.

But Smit emphasized that Comcast has been getting more content and rights across new platforms in programming deals. And it has focused on making content discovery easier for customers.

All that, along with better marketing and retention measures, has helped boost video revenue and subscriber momentum.

Pay-TV subscriber losses have narrowed for nine straight quarters, and the fourth-quarter loss of 7,000 would have been a gain when excluding the impact from Hurricane Sandy, Smit said, reiterating previous comments.

While he didn't say when Comcast could record pay-TV subscriber growth again, he said: "It is a great business. We are investing behind it, and I believe there is a lot more coming in video."

Asked about the outlook for continued broadband subscriber growth, Smit said high-speed Internet service penetration has grown to 36 percent, but some markets have reached over 50 percent.


Overall, he said he sees no reason why broadband penetration can't reach the 85 percent to 90 percent of video penetration. "It is becoming more core to people's lives," he said.

Twitter: @georgszalai