Apparently opinions differ on the future of the set-top box — though this is not the first prediction of its demise. Even should they be replaced by system-based functionality, the likely scenario is that the more complex boxes, including HD and DVR capabilities, will remain for some time. Given that they are the more expensive devices, the need for tight inventory controls, complete visibility into deployed, replaced and replacement units and quick, efficient, customer-friendly returns processes remains a critical success factor.


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TWC CEO Heaps More Dirt on the Set-Top Box

MAY 22, 2012

BOSTON — The Cable Show — CNN’s Erin Burnett got right to the point at Monday’s general session here when she asked Time Warner Cable Inc. (NYSE: TWC) Chairman and CEO Glenn Britt if the set-top box is ever going to go away. Britt’s answer? Yes.

“What’s happening is pretty simple. The world is coalescing around IP standards, and all devices are being made to those standards … and that’s the future,” said Britt, noting that core set-top box functions continue to be integrated in TVs and other connected video devices.

In other words, Britt doesn’t want to be tied to traditional, proprietary set-top technology anymore, and he doesn’t think the industry as a whole should remain wedded to it either.

For all the cable industry’s doom-mongering, however, the set-top has been pronounced dead before. Many times. And the devices continue to be deployed in hundreds of millions of households around the world. In fact, IHS iSuppli predicts that suppliers will ship more than 135 million of the boxes this year alone, and that number should top 150 million by 2015.

And there’s been plenty of set-top box-related news here at the show. Comcast Corp. (Nasdaq: CMCSA, CMCSK) announced it’s launching its next-gen video platform, the X1, (formerly Xcalibur) in Boston in the next few weeks. One of the major components of that platform is a hybrid QAM/IP box made by Pace plc , which has also teamed with TiVo Inc. (Nasdaq: TIVO) on a super-charged video gateway with six tuners — all more suggestions that the rumors of the set-top’s demise remain greatly exaggerated. (See Comcast’s X1 Video Platform Lands First in Boston and TiVo & Pace Debut Docsis 3.0-Powered Gateway .)

But the demise of the set-top box also came up at a panel later in the day. TW Cable EVP and Chief Strategy Officer Peter Stern said cable operators have a good financial reason to get set-top boxes off the books, despite the fact that MSOs make money from them by leasing them out. “When you run the math, it’s not a very good business,” he said. “I’d gladly walk away from those revenues.”

To which Comcast EVP and CTO Tony Werner jokingly replied: “I think Google would’ve wished you said something about that before they bought Motorola.” (See Cover Sheet: Google to Acquire Moto Mobility.)

— Mari Silbey, Special to Light Reading Cable