Cisco's De Beer: Set-Tops Will Die in a Decade


San Jose, Calif. -- Marthin De Beer is the top video-technology exec at Cisco Systems, one of the world's largest suppliers of set-top boxes.

And he realizes the days of the standalone set-top are numbered.

De Beer, senior vice president of Cisco’s Video & Collaboration Group, predicts that Internet TVs and other consumer IP devices will be powerful and ubiquitous enough within about 10 years to receive any pay-TV service directly -- eliminating the need for service providers to deploy set-top boxes.

The hardware side of the equation is becoming a commodity, he said in an interview here at the company's campus, and the Cisco strategy from here on out is to be "set-top agnostic."

The increasingly software-based nature of TV services was a primary driver behind Cisco’s $5 billion purchase of NDS, according to De Beer, who oversees Cisco’s Service Provider Video Technology Group as well as its enterprise video-collaboration portfolio.

But 10 years is a pretty long window of time. Until that set-top-boxless future happens, set-tops (and DVRs) will remain a key piece of business for Cisco, he said. “We are not going to leave our customers in the lurch,” he said.

“We are not going to de-emphasize set-tops,” he continued. “But what we are going to do is work hard to make sure our software works across any platform.”

That’s a shift from the thinking from the old Scientific Atlanta, which relied on selling MSOs proprietary set-tops, De Beer noted.

Cisco has regularly affirmed its commitment to remain a supplier of set-top and gateway hardware after the company last year sold its set-top box manufacturing facility in Juarez, Mexico, to Foxconn Technology Group -- prompting rumors it was exiting the space.

Meanwhile, Google is said to be actively looking to sell or spin off Motorola Mobility’s Home division, having selected Barclays Capital to explore a potential sale. Motorola has itself pursued a more software-centric video solutions strategy, but like Cisco's SP Video Technology Group, lots of its revenue still comes from set-tops and DVRs.

"If we were only playing in set-tops," De Beer said, the shift toward software pay-TV clients "would be a problem."