It’s a scary world out there for traditional media companies and Comcast Corporation (NASDAQ:CMCSA) is certainly no exception. Comcast stock has shed $10 so far this year, a dip that would normally prompt investors to consider buying the shares as a value play.
However, unlike some companies I’ve written about in the past, whose share price lost ground on bad news but whose long-term trajectory looks rosy- Comcast’s decline looks well deserved and likely to continue.
Comcast stock is struggling as people turn away from traditional cable and toward online streaming. Try as it might, CMCSA has simply been unsuccessful in finding a place for itself in the cordless future.
In the fourth quarter, Comcast reported that it had lost 33,000 cable subscribers and that trend is likely to continue when the firm reports earnings at the end of April. Analysts at UBS believe the company will watch 400,000 video subscribers walk out the door over the course of this year.
That’s a huge problem for Comcast for a few reasons. First, subscriber numbers are pretty much the end-all be-all for investors in the media space. There’s a fierce battle going on between content providers to get and maintain customers and if you’re not growing those numbers, you’re as good as dead. Comcast, unfortunately, falls into the latter category.
More importantly though, three-quarters of Comcast’s profit comes from its Cable Communications segment. That means that video and data subscribers are the meat and potatoes of CMCSA’s business so the company really can’t afford such dramatic declines.
What About Sky?
When news that CMCSA was going to thwart Walt Disney Co’s (NYSE:DIS) M&A plans by bidding higher for Sky PLC (LON: SKY), some cheered the company’s bold move to bring the European entertainment company under the Comcast umbrella. However, once the dust settled Comcast stock saw very little movement because no matter the outcome, the Sky tie up is unlikely to make much of a difference for Comcast.
If you imagine the absolute best case scenario in which Comcast wins the bidding war and Sky agrees to a deal, there are still problems ahead. Theoretically a Sky tie-up would bring a lot to CMCSA’s business. Sky brings to the table a host of benefits like new programming which might help it hold on to subscribers and access to the European market.
However an acquisition of that scale will likely take years to complete. Not only would CMCSA be dealing with U.S. regulators regarding the tie up, but the firm would also have to contend with European regulators as well; and unfortunately Comcast is already viewed as a problematic company on the other side of the pond.
As some of my colleagues mentioned in earlier articles, Comcast would be better off making a smaller acquisition that would still help improve the firm’s future in the media space, but wouldn’t face such scrutiny.
InvestorPlace’s Brent Kenwell suggested a smaller acquisition target like Hulu or Lions Gate Entertainment Corp (NYSE:LGF) and I agree. Those deals would be much smaller and the impact more immediate.
The Bottom Line for Comcast Stock
Comcast stock certainly has farther to fall in the months ahead, so I’d steer clear no matter what news breaks on the Sky deal. With earnings coming up at the end of the month, investors will likely see another major subscriber exodus which will drive the stock lower and rightly so- without subscribers CMCSA is stuck in a rut.
Until Comcast finds a way to rework its business and remain relevant in the streaming space, I don’t see how the firm can continue to operate- at least not successfully. On top of a pitiful customer service reputation and accusations regarding questionable business practices, Comcast is struggling to offer people a reason to carry on with their cable contracts.
The only way the firm will be able to turn things around is through a strategic acquisition- but not one plagued by regulatory concerns like the Sky deal.
Instead, Comcast management needs to focus on small but meaningful improvements that will add value to its service and hold on to subscribers. If we ever see subscriber numbers start to level off, Comcast stock will start to look more attractive, but so far there’s no reason to believe that’s going to happen in the near future, if at all.
As of this writing Laura Hoy did not hold a position in any of the aforementioned securities.