- Associated Press - Wednesday, February 16, 2011

PHILADELPHIA (AP) - Comcast Corp., the nation’s largest TV signal provider and the new majority owner of NBC Universal, on Wednesday posted fourth-quarter earnings that edged past analysts’ expectations as more customers signed up for multiple services and the loss of video subscribers slowed.

Its deal to buy a 51 percent stake in NBC Universal closed in January, so the unit was not reflected in the results for the three months through December.

Comcast’s A shares rose 69 cents, or 2.9 percent, to $24.85 in pre-market trading.

The Philadelphia-based company with operations in 39 states said it lost 135,000 video subscribers in the quarter, fewer than some analysts expected and less than the 199,000 it lost a year earlier. It finished the year with 22.8 million.

There were fewer cancellations by people who signed up mainly for promotional prices in 2009, and more people stuck around thanks to more high-definition channels and expanded programming brought on by the move to digital delivery.

The company posted net income of $1.02 billion, or 36 cents per share, for the three months ended in December, up from $955 million, or 33 cents, a year ago.

Excluding costs from the NBC Universal deal and other one-time items, earnings came to 35 cents per share, beating the 32 cents expected by analysts polled by FactSet.

Revenue rose 7 percent to $9.72 billion from $9.07 billion. That also beat the $9.58 billion expected by analysts.

As more people signed up for a combination of TV signals, high-speed Internet access and digital voice lines, average revenue per video subscriber rose 11 percent to $133.43 per month in the fourth quarter, up from $120.66 per month a year earlier.

Comcast said that 33 percent of its customers now sign up for more than one service, up from 28 percent a year ago.

The company also said that it would raise its annual dividend by 19 percent to 45 cents per share, and speed up the rate at which it buys back shares. It will now repurchase $2.1 billion worth of shares in 2011, faster than an earlier promise to buy back that many shares by 2012.

For the full year, net income was steady at $3.64 billion, or $1.29 per share, versus $3.64 billion, or $1.26 per share, a year ago when there were slightly more shares outstanding. Annual revenue rose 6 percent to $37.94 billion from $35.76 billion.

Comcast took a 51 percent stake in NBC Universal last month by paying majority owner General Electric Co. $6.2 billion in cash and contributing its pay TV channels such as E! Entertainment Television and The Golf Channel, worth $7.25 billion, to the venture. GE is expected to diminish its 49 percent stake to nothing as it is paid out from the venture over seven years.

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