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By Malathi Nayak
NEW YORK, April 27 (Reuters) - Comcast Corp reported better-than-expected results on Wednesday, reaping the rewards of its biggest first-quarter jump in pay-TV customers in nine years and as its business service, high-speed Internet and entertainment units grew.
The largest U.S. cable operator said total revenue rose 5.3 percent to $18.8 billion, beating analysts’ consensus estimate of $18.64 billion, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.
Net income attributable to Comcast grew 3.6 percent from the year-ago period to $2.13 billion, or 87 cents a share.
Profit of 84 cents per share, excluding gains from sales and acquisition-related items, surpassed analysts’ consensus estimate of 79 cents.
Shares of Comcast rose 0.4 percent to close at $61.30.
The company is in talks to buy Hollywood studio owner DreamWorks Animation SKG Inc, known for movie franchises such as “Shrek” and “KungFu Panda,” for over $3 billion, The Wall street Journal reported on Tuesday, citing people familiar with the matter. Executives did not comment on merger and acquisition plans during an earnings conference call.
Comcast is likely interested in DreamWorks’ content library and intellectual property, MoffettNathanson analyst Craig Moffett said in a research note.
Revenue at the NBCUniversal division, which Comcast acquired in 2011 and includes NBC, film studios and theme parks, grew 4 percent to $6.9 billion.
At its Universal film studio, which did not have major releases in the quarter, revenue fell 4.3 percent to $1.4 billion from a year earlier, when its “Fifty Shades of Grey” turned out to be a blockbuster.
Revenue at Universal theme parks soared 58 percent to $1.03 billion, boosted by Harry Potter attractions and the addition of Universal Studios Japan. Comcast bought a majority stake in the Japanese studio for $1.5 billion in September.
“Theme parks must be viewed as a foundational element of the Comcast story, and no doubt is a big part of their interest in DreamWorks,”Moffett said.
Philadelphia-based Comcast added 53,000 pay-TV subscribers in the quarter ended March 31 after losing 8,000 a year earlier.
The number of new television subscribers is closely followed by analysts as pay-TV operators compete to keep customers from switching to lower-priced video streaming services such as Netflix Inc and Hulu.
Comcast has been investing to improve customer service and enhance features of its set-top boxes and TV interface to retain and attract subscribers.
Its business services unit posted $1.3 billion in revenue, up 18 percent from a year ago.
Comcast, which is also the largest U.S. high-speed Internet provider, said Internet revenue grew 8 percent to $3.3 billion, as customer additions rose 8 percent to 438,000.
Reporting by Malathi Nayak; Editing by Richard Chang and Bernadette Baum