Cable Tech

TWC CEO Heaps More Dirt on the Set-Top Box

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

craigleddy 12/5/2012 | 5:32:32 PM
re: TWC CEO Heaps More Dirt on the Set-Top Box

Britt's comments got a lot of hallway buzz at The Cable Show, even though he and other MSO execs already have made similar comments over the past couple of years. To clarify the situation, they should declare the death of the legacy digital set-tops that are as dumb as dirt and hang around the neck of cable innovation like an albatross (sorry for the double metaphors).

As you point out, cable still needs a box in the home and now the set-top is morphing into a Docsis-fueled gateway that serves as a media center in the home.     

cableric 12/5/2012 | 5:32:31 PM
re: TWC CEO Heaps More Dirt on the Set-Top Box Simply relying on smart tv's is a pipe dream. Creating an environment that creates a cohesive, consistent user experience across a range of STBs by one or two manufacturers and a handful of models is hard enough. Now your going to tell me that your going to manage your product across dozens of manufacturers with hundreds of models? Please. He set top box as we have known it for the past 15 years is, in fact, dead... but "long live the multimedia gateway!"
Jeff Baumgartner 12/5/2012 | 5:32:31 PM
re: TWC CEO Heaps More Dirt on the Set-Top Box

Yes, i'm also hearing alot of talk here about new headless gateways that will serve all screens in the house... but i think a total death of STBs remains wishful thinking at least in the near term (like a decade or more) .  JB

paolo.franzoi 12/5/2012 | 5:32:29 PM
re: TWC CEO Heaps More Dirt on the Set-Top Box

You mean like maybe the problem that Website designers face in dealing with the various screen sizes and Safari, Chrome, IE, Firefox etc?



Jian_Huang 12/5/2012 | 5:32:26 PM
re: TWC CEO Heaps More Dirt on the Set-Top Box

As long as cable exists, there will be ALWAYS something between TV sets and the cable running into homes.  It may not be in the form of current STB under every TV. It may be very likely a device or interface that connected either by wire or wirelessly to all TVs and other display terminal devices in home.

pogo 12/5/2012 | 5:32:21 PM
re: TWC CEO Heaps More Dirt on the Set-Top Box

Yes, the STB (in whatever incarnation) will outlive us all. MSO's need to own a consistent HW platform in the home.  They need to be able to rely on a minimum level of functionality.  They need to be able to brand the look and feel of the UI consistently.  They need to limit customer service calls for unsupported 3rd-party platforms.  They need to be able to deploy new features that require specialized hardware.  For example, if gesture or voice control becomes a market requirement, how can it be deployed if MSO's don't control the HW platform?


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