Comcast rose modestly this morning after reporting better-than-expected results for the second quarter. It was a pleasant about-face for the cable operator, which spent the past week taking flack for what might have been the worst customer service call of all time. Net income beat analysts' forecasts at nearly $2 billion, and Comcast also added 203,000 users to its high-speed Internet service in Q2, more than the 161,000 additions that analysts expected.
More interesting is this line from Comcast's quarterly report: "Video Customer Net Losses Declined to 144,000; The Best Second Quarter Result in Six Years." Best second-quarter result in six years? Comcast must have seen some pretty brutal second quarters. To some extent, that's seasonal: Comcast customers include students who cancel their TV subscriptions at the end of a school year and summer vacationers who terminate their service before hitting the road.
At the same time, households cutting the cord on cable services is an industrywide problem. The number of Americans paying for TV through cable, satellite, or fiber services slid by more than 250,000 in 2013, according to data from research firm SNL Kagan. Though people have seen this coming for quite some time, the pay-TV industry had never suffered a quarterly subscriber decline before 2010.
Comcast might have lost 144,000 cable customers this time around, but that was better than the 162,000 it dropped a year ago, and followed two consecutive quarters of actually growing its TV subscribers. From Comcast's perspective, stemming the flow in the latest quarter might be enough of a win. Maybe those horrid policies it has for "retention" specialists are doing the trick after all.