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`Repositioned’ Thomson Unveiled At CES

Las Vegas – It was a new and somewhat less familiar Thomson that staged a pre-CES press conference to officially reveal its new corporate facelift.

Once the dominant company on the CES show floor, the CE division of the France-based global conglomerate announced an abbreviated assortment of new products in a CES meeting room, while asking dealers and press to travel across town to view a more extensive collection of coming products.

The company led off its product announcements by saying the familiar Thomson Consumer Electronics and Thomson multimedia companies had morphed into a ‘strategically repositioned’ Thomson, which has expanded its focus from consumer electronics to include content creation, content distribution and content access businesses.

The mission, said Al Arras, Thomson audio, video and Atlinks senior executive VP, is to seize new digital opportunities along the entire length of the supply chain — from content development to sales of consumer devices to play that content.

Arras reviewed the activity, which led to the recent name change from Thomson multimedia to Thomson.

He explained the new, abbreviated name became necessary after the company trimmed its large stable of consumer electronics brands around the world and added significant new brands in other business sectors through acquisitions in the content creation and broadcast production industries.

‘Thomson multimedia struggled for years to rationalize its many brand names, including the well-known Thomson and RCA brands,’ Arras said. ‘In short, we had too many names for the limited resources that we had to promote them.’

Following the acquisitions of Technicolor and the Grass Valley Group (a broadcast equipment supplier), the Thomson portfolio balanced on ‘four strategic brands from content creation to content distribution, and to content access – Technicolor, Grass Valley, Thomson and RCA,’ he said.

One of the largest divisions of the new company is its digital media solutions group, which delivers technical services to Hollywood through its Technicolor unit.

The broadcast solutions division – which merged the broadcast businesses of Thomson, Philips and Grass Valley – has become the world’s second largest supplier of broadcast equipment to studios, network operators and broadcasters, he said.

As for consumer electronics, Thomson uses that operation to reach consumers ‘at the end of the chain, or the important last inch,’ Arras said.

In the United States, the RCA brand continues to represent a leading developer of digital TV products, satellite TV receivers and a wide selection of other digital devices in the audio and video categories, he said.

Under the GE brand in the U.S., the company is also known as the world’s largest manufacturer of consumer telephones.

Other operations include component parts sales, New Media Services, which develops interactive program guides and conditional access security (SmartRight), and a patents and licensing division, which protects and collects revenue from Thomson’s stable of intellectual property.

‘You can see how Thomson has changed,’ Arras said. ‘While a large portion of our revenue comes from retailers who buy consumer products, industrial sales of components and key technologies to other companies represents a growing segment.’

The most growth in the company, he pointed out, ‘is happening with the media companies.’

As for new RCA video products, the company announced its first rear-projection HDTV set based on Digital Light Processing (DLP) micro display technology, its first DVD recorder and a new line of televisions to incorporate the Alert Guard warning system. (See p. 40 for Thomson’s audio lineup.)

Mike O’Hara, Thomson worldwide sales and marketing executive VP, said the new flagship in the RCA Scenium HDTV line will be a fully integrated 50W-inch 16:9 rear-projection HDTV set based on Texas Instruments’ Mustang HD-2 (1280×720) DLP technology. The set, which follows an earlier trial with an LCoS-based rear-projection HDTV monitor, will feature internal ATSC terrestrial DTV tuning, Quadrature Amplitude Modulation (QAM) digital cable TV tuning, IEEE-1394 with DTCP (DTVLink) and DVI with HDCP digital interfaces. The set weighs under 100 pounds and is less than 16-inches deep. It will carry a $4,499 suggested retail price.

Thomson also formally announced its long-awaited DVD+RW/+R recorder. The RCA DRC8000N will carry a $599 suggested retail price and ships in June.

Also for this year, Thomson said it would introduce its second combination DVD player and personal video recorder. The RCA DRC7005N Digital Media Recorder will offer progressive scan DVD video output and has a 40GB hard drive to store up to 40 hours of video programming and feature GuidePlus+ interactive TV guide.

In announcing the Alert Guard TV line, Thomson said it would carry six direct-view television sets in the 20-, 27- and 32-inch screen sizes, all equipped with special tuners and antennas.

Viewers will be able to monitor localized and national emergencies even when watching other video sources through NOAA’s All-Hazards Warning System radio network.