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Technicolor Buying Cisco’s Set-Top Box Biz for $600 Million

Technicolor is buying Cisco Systems’ cable modem and set-top box business for €550 million (about $600 million) in cash and stock, the companies announced late Wednesday. The deal marks the latest in a string of transactions for cable and IPTV hardware at a time when new ways of watching TV are starting to compete with the traditional cable box.

Under the deal, Paris-based Technicolor will pay Cisco €413 million (about $450 million) in cash as well as €137 million (about $150 million) in shares. The companies expect the transaction to close during the fourth quarter of this year or Q1 of 2016, provided that regulators give it a thumbs-up.

Cisco has been making set-top boxes and home gateways (also known as cable modems) for internet and pay TV providers like Charter and Comcast in the U.S., as well as numerous other pay TV providers worldwide. After the acquisition, Technicolor will have a market share of 15% in this segment, shipping 60 million devices each year. It will have an installed base of 290 million set-top boxes and 185 million home gateways in households around the world.

Cisco began selling to TV operators after acquiring set-top box maker Scientific-Atlanta for $6.9 billion a decade ago. The company doubled down on the market when it acquired TV software and services company NDS for $5 billion in 2012.

But recently, some investors had been calling for the company to exit the set-top business. Sales of set-tops have been declining for some time, weighing down Cisco’s video business, which also includes content security and cloud-based video solutions. For its fiscal third quarter of 2015 (which ended April 25), Cisco’s video service provider business generated $871 million, compared with $961 million during the same quarter a year earlier.

Cisco isn’t the only company that has been offloading its set-top business in recent years: Arris Group spent $2.4 billion in 2014 to buy Motorola’s Home business from Google, which itself acquired the segment as part of its $12.5 billion Motorola acquisition in 2012. And earlier this year, Arris spent $2.1 billion on British set-top maker Pace.

Some of this consolidation is due to the fact that cable boxes are relatively low-margin products with slow upgrade cycles dictated not by consumers, but by service operators that typically take years to deploy new hardware platforms.

But some of it also has to do with the way television itself is changing. Consumers are aggressively embracing streaming services like Netflix, and at least some of them are abandoning traditional TV services. That has led to operators deciding that it’s cheaper and wiser to upgrade existing hardware with new software, or even embrace cord-cutting through new packages and services, making new cable boxes a hard sell.

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