How Comcast attracted a whopping 53,000 new TV subscribers

Comcast quarterly earnings report shows gains in new TV subscribers and Internet users, but the company is still facing customer service woes.

Mary Altaffer/AP/File
A man walks past the Comcast Building in New York in July 2015. Comcast reported gains in pay-TV subscribers and Internet users in its most recent earnings report Wednesday, beating analysts' estimates.

Comcast gained 53,000 pay-TV subscribers last quarter, a trend possibly linked to its introduction of a broader array of "skinny bundles" of channels designed to pique specific interests, although customer service remains its Achilles heel.

On Wednesday, the cable giant beat analysts' estimates to post better-than-expected financial results, with its total revenue rising 5.3 percent to $18.8 billion in the quarter that ended March 31.

The increase in pay-TV subscribers comes as cable companies have faced increasing challenges to hold onto customers as streaming services such as Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Prime Video offer a growing array of movies, TV, and original programming. During the same period last year, the company lost 8,000 paid TV subscribers.

"We delivered our best first-quarter Internet results in four years and our best first-quarter video results in nine years," chief executive Brian Roberts told reporters during an earnings call Wednesday, calling the company's performance "outstanding."

The company has also branched into offering so-called skinny bundles, including its web-based Stream TV service, which offers a dozen channels, including HBO and broadcast channels, for $15 a month. But during an earnings call in February, the company said that the lighter cable packages only made up a small portion of its revenue.

This quarter, Comcast's rebound may also come from users subscribing to home broadband, a core part of their business that's required for access to streaming video from other providers. 

Bucking a contention that the use of home broadband has actually reached a plateau and begun to drop — thanks, in part, to high costs — Comcast added 438,000 broadband subscribers during the first quarter, compared to 407,000 a year ago.

In addition to unveiling a broader array of streaming video services, Comcast has also attempted to overhaul its customer service. 

Following a year of bad publicity in 2014, the next year the company pledged $300 million to improve their service, on top of hiring 5,500 additional customer service employees over the next three years. 

Last month, Comcast partnered with Amazon to allow customers to order an array of cable services directly from the online marketplace.

But if the often-sarcastic tone of online reviews are any measure, the partnership, which came with promises of dedicated customer service agents based in Seattle and Tucson, hasn't fared so well.

Of the 103 reviews currently on the service's page, 83 percent are one-star, including one that noted, "basic combat training was easier than dealing with Comcast."

"When you finally come to your senses and want to cancel your service, be aware that it will take a LONG time. I was hung up on 3 times trying to cancel, after about 35 minutes on the phone," wrote a user named Chitown Kiwi in a top-rated one-star review.

"We know we need to do a better job for our customers," senior PR director Kate Finn told CIO Magazine last month. "It's hard work, and it won't happen overnight, but we are completely committed to doing what it takes and won't stop until our customers see and feel the changes we are making in every interaction."

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