The set-top box isn't dead -- but in the next few years, it will relinquish its crown as the primary device pay-TV subscribers use to access television services from many of the world's biggest operators.
That's according to a new forecast from research firm IHS, which predicted that by 2016 more multiscreen devices -- including PCs, tablets, connected TVs and game consoles -- will be used to watch TV than set-top boxes among 43 of the largest global pay-TV operators that have commenced deployment of multiscreen services.
In 2015, 49% of all devices obtaining television services from those providers will be PCs, smartphones, tablets, game consoles, connected TVs and other multiscreen devices, up from just 18% in 2011, according to IHS. Set-tops will decline to 51% of pay-TV operator devices in 2015, down from 82% in 2011.
However, IHS noted, the study included only pay TV operators that have already started offering multiscreen-video services. Those account for only half of the global total of 538.8 million installed set-tops in 2011 and will represent only about one third of the 849 million set-tops expected by 2015.
Among "multiscreen operators," the global installed base of set-top boxes will increase from 274.5 million in 2011 to 321.7 million in 2015, a rise of 17%. Multiscreen devices actively receiving pay-TV services will soar more than fivefold, from 60.1 million in 2011 to 310.1 million in 2015, IHS predicted.
"A new era is dawning in the pay-TV industry, one in which subscribers can access television services on the device of their choosing, rather than being limited to using [set-top boxes]," IHS senior principal analyst for TV technology Tom Morrod said.
In 2011, PCs were the most common devices associated with multiscreen pay-TV deployments, followed by Apple iPads, iPhones and iPod touches. However, the number of iOS devices accessing pay-TV services will rise by nearly 800% with Android-based device set to increase more than 1200% by 2015, while PCs will expand by only about half that rate, according to IHS.
In the U.S. cable market, set-top box deployments are most widespread and American MSOs will be slower to tip the balance toward multiscreen devices, according to IHS. For example, by 2015, Comcast will be "nudging toward" having one multiscreen device per set-top box in service, compared with the U.K.'s BskyB with 1.5 devices per set-top deployed, the firm said.