Set-top box business is far from dead, says analyst

Some took the rumor that Cisco would sell off its set-top box division to heart, believing it signaled the end times for the device as a whole. Now that the company has actually doubled down its business, snatching up UK-based STB software developer NDS for a cool $5 billion, market researcher Parks Associates is playing the ‘I told you so’ card.

Parks Senior Analyst Brett Sappington called the NDS acquisition proof enough that Cisco is here to stay despite competitor Google’s expected departure. Google now faces an uncertain future in the business, thanks in part to operators’ reticence to work with the web company.

“The STB is not dead,” said Sappington. “Google is selling the STB business because operators have made it clear that they do not want to be in bed with Google in the set top box arena. So, Google is faced with either selling that division and getting some value or seeing it wither away over the next 4-5 years as operators migrate away to other solutions.”

A New York Post report earlier this month suggesting Google would sell off its own STB division sparked the entire deathbed scenario.

Kurt Scherf, vice president and principal analyst at Parks, posited that Cisco wants to bridge the old and new through a set-top box, noting its 2010 acquisition of the CMS software company ExtendMedia. What better way than to buy an “old world” video software company?

“Cisco’s aiming at managing and delivering content to both the ‘new world’ of connected CE and the traditional world of set-top boxes,” Scherf explained. “Both assets, however, are integrated with Videoscape and Cisco’s Content Delivery System to pave the way for multiple devices receiving content with consistent user interface experiences.”

Set-top boxes indeed face threats from smart TVs and an increasing focus on Internet-based streaming content. Roku CEO Anthony Wood isn’t too worried. The executive outlined plans for an à la carte service this week, suggesting cable companies will soon reconsider their stance of only offering over-the-air content to subscribers.