Recent news of acquisitions and divestments in the US cable market – most notably Cisco’s $5-billion purchase of NDS – underscore the industry’s shift in focus away from set-top box (STB) hardware and toward software and services that are designed to accommodate the booming opportunity for pay-TV multiscreen devices.

The number of multiscreen devices active on global pay-TV networks is expected to rise to 303,7-million units in 2015, up by a factor of more than 10 from 29,5-million in 2010, according to the IHS Screen Digest TV Multiscreen Intelligence Service at information and analytics provider IHS.

This contrasts with a relatively flat performance of the STB market, where the installed base of set-top boxes will grow at a compound annual rate (CAGR) of only 9% during the same period, compared to a 59% CAGR of active multiscreen devices.

In the pay-TV world, multiscreen is defined as a service that allows the viewing of video on multiple platforms beyond the traditional mode of televisions connected to cable STBs. The multiscreen device category comprises a range of products, including smartphones, media tablets, portable media devices, video game consoles, personal computers and Internet-enabled televisions (IETVs).

“While STBs will continue to represent a large market for U.S. cable companies, over the long term, multiscreen device access increasingly will become the core metric that determines the scale of operators’ coverage,” says Tom Morrod, senior principal analyst: TV technology for IHS. “To cash in on this trend, operators need digital rights management (DRM) technology and a compelling user interface (UI) that can be ported across multiple devices. The US cable equipment market has been rife with news and rumours of corporate acquisitions and sales – all of which point to a shift in emphasis away from STB hardware and toward multiscreen software and services.”