Comcast promises acquisition discipline

Reports Q3 profit of $944 mil, up 22%

NEW YORK -- Comcast Corp. chairman and CEO Brian Roberts on Wednesday tried to calm investor fears about a potential deal that would give the cable giant a controlling stake in NBC Universal, promising shareholders "a very disciplined approach" and a focus on creating "meaningful value" for them in any acquisition.

During opening remarks on his firm's third-quarter earnings conference call, he didn't directly name NBC Uni, but addressed what he called the "potential content investment" that has been widely discussed in the industry.

Roberts said he wanted to reinforce to shareholders that Comcast will only take advantage of deal opportunities in its core businesses that would allow it to accelerate growth, provide benefits of scale and differentiate the firm's offerings.

Anyone hoping for more specifics got a rain check. During a Q&A session, Comcast executives didn't take questions on specific deals, such as the one in the final stages that  would see the company take a 51% stake in NBC Uni.

Indirect references to it kept popping up though.
On a presentation slide, the company once again listed a "disciplined acquisition and investment strategy," as well as shareholder returns in the form of dividends and stock buybacks as key priorities.

And CFO Michael Angelakis reiterated that Comcast wouldn't issue any stock in acquisitions right now and any deal must generate "attractive returns" for shareholders.

Early Wednesday morning, Comcast reported a third-quarter profit of $944 million, up 22%.

Revenue rose 3% to $8.8 billion. Even in the earnings report, Roberts highlighted Comcast's focus on financial discipline.

"The strength and resilience of our businesses combined with our emphasis on expenses and prudent capital management helped us achieve healthy operating and financial results," he said.

In a possible nod to what Comcast could do if it had access to more content, he added: "Our goal is to deliver the best consumer experience in the marketplace, and we remain focused on driving meaningful innovation in all of our products and services."

On the call, COO Steve Burke, who would play a key role in the case of an NBC Uni deal, also once again signalled why more content would help Comcast. VOD usage is high when customers are aware of the firm's offerings, but more content and awareness are needed, he argued. "There's still a lot more potential," Burke said.

Comcast lost 132,000 basic video subscribers in the third quarter, bringing its year-to-date losses to 424,000. But it continued to add broadband, digital video and telephony customers.