Last week saw the demise of one VOD offering and the birth of
In the sad news column, IP Vision, owners of the Fetch TV
video-on-demand service, announced that it has placed the company
into administration and put all of its assets up for sale. Fetch
TV, as you know, is delivered direct to IP Vision's own range of
set-top boxes as well as operating a white-label service for
distribution on connected TVs.
At the same time, Sky was launching a web-only pay-TV service
which, according to its CEO, Jeremy Darroch, will
provide "instant access to Sky Movies on demand, with no dish
and no contract, and customers will be able to pay monthly or rent
a movie on a pay-as-you-go basis". There's no name for this
product yet but, continued Darroch, it "will be a new way to
watch our content via broadband connected devices - on a PC,
laptop, tablet, smartphone, games console or connected
Both events, in their own ways, spell the beginning of the end
for set-top boxes and here are 4 reasons why:
1. Everything Is, or
Will Be, Cross-Platform
In his statement above, Jeremy Darroch identified the 5
platforms that publishers are now aiming to provide their content
to: computers, mobile phones, tablets, connected TVs and games
consoles. Why? Because these devices are all online - they're
capable of delivering TV shows and movies over the open internet.
This method of delivery - OTT (over-the-top) - has prospered with
the advent of faster broadband.
Just look at the BBC iPlayer which is now available on all of
the above devices. Lovefilm is on all platforms except mobile. Even
Netflix, a new entrant to the market, can be accessed on at least
computer / tablet / mobile.
When you can get content where you want it, when you want it,
the argument goes, why remain tethered to a box that only connects
to the big TV in your living room?
2. Our Enthusiasm for
An OTT delivery mechanism is great in theory but it needs mass
adoption of recipient devices by consumers. Luckily, we can't get
connected quickly enough. According to Ofcom,
smartphone adoption has already reached almost 50% in the UK,
connected TV sales are expected to surge to 503 million units in
2013 and sales of
tablets are rising, year-on-year, in hundreds of percentage
points. We're increasingly online so it's only natural that we
want to find content there.
3. Streaming versus
Owning... or Even Waiting
Despite the enormous technological changes of the past 10 years
many of us come from a generation in which it's normal to own
various media: we still feel like we want to buy - rather than
consume online - books, newspapers, DVDs and CDs. The new world
order of video-on-demand however is challenging these behaviours.
For example, about 18 months ago I bought the 'Blackadder' box set
on DVD - a show that was first broadcast on BBC1 in the 80's and
90's. Now I find that Lovefilm is streaming almost the entire
Blackadder catalogue making my earlier purchase redundant.
As with music there will come a time - very soon I suspect -
when only die-hard fans will be unable to wait for the online
streaming window to open and buy physical assets. Eventually, all
content-owners will, for a premium fee, allow everyone to access
their TV shows and movies, over-the-top, at will. And you'd suspect
that someone, somewhere is developing a Spotify for visual
entertainment. Either way, set-top box delivery doesn't figure.
4. We Need the Plug
electricity will arrive soon too but not quite yet. For now,
even with multiple adapters, we may find that we could do without
the unnecessary encumbrance of a set-top box taking up one of the
plug sockets. Plug a hard-drive in when you want to record
something and the PVR feature of many STBs is rendered null; watch
everything on a connected device and you have true catch-up and
On the other hand, it's still preferable to watch something on a
big screen rather than a tablet; the point-click-record
functionality of a remote control is still quick, efficient,
thoughtless; and broadband services still suffer from outages.
A scratch of the chin.
Set-top boxes haven't quite outlived their usefulness just yet.
But will they be a part of the television landscape in 10 years