Thomson goes mobile

Thomson, a company whose camera and production technologies have helped sports broadcasters deliver high-quality images to TV viewers, is now ready to help sports content distributors move beyond the big screen to the little screen.

The company last week acquired the broadcast and multimedia division of France-based Thales for $155.6 million, expanding Thomson s product portfolio with transmission technologies for digital, IPTV, and mobile applications.
Two of the longer-term strategic initiatives coming out of this deal will be IP and mobile services, says Jeff Rosica, Grass Valley VP, worldwide strategic marketing and business development. Those are two distribution areas that will be of interest to sports teams on any level.

Sports, says Rosica, lend itself well to the mobile market as fans follow favorite teams around the clock. The telcos are giving content owners different options and business models for home or fixed locations while mobility is exciting if the content owner wants to get in front of additional eyeballs in a car or on a train, he adds.

Two of Thales existing customers in the mobile market, Crown Castle and Qualcomm, will be looking to reach those eyeballs in earnest in 2006. Both companies could transform the mobile video market with systems that deliver live video signals to cellphones via over-the-air signals. By not relying on the cellular network they can deliver high-quality signals to millions of viewers without running into bandwidth limitations.

The IPTV market also holds a strong allure for Thomson. Marc Valentin, president of Thomson s Grass Valley unit, estimates the worldwide IPTV market will eventually grow to approximately $18 billion over the next four to five years.
IPTV represents the whole of digital TV itself, ultimately, which shows that it is not just a category of telcos, but a kind of technology that can become a standard of distribution, adds Valentin.

Rosica says the company will focus on taking the Thales IPTV products that exist today and market end-to-end solutions for tier one, two and three telcos. While some industry analysts doubt that telcos can successfully get into the video delivery market Rosica isn t buying it.

Some of those people are the same ones who said satellite wouldn t succeed or that DVD wouldn t succeed because it didn t let the user record content, he says. But viewers have shown they have an appetite and desire for more content.

Look for that additional content to come in the form of sports and news. With telcos like Verizon and SBC jumping into the TV market it s clear they ll need to offer customers more than just the same channels and programming found on the local cable system. Using IP to deliver local high-school and collegiate sports and other local news content is seen as a differentiator.

Today s viewers want any content at any time in any place in the highest possible quality, says Laura Barber-Miller, Grass Valley VP, worldwide communications. The consumers will mandate how quickly these markets catch fire.

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