Thomson Grass Valley debuts

The acquisition of the Grass Valley Group by Thomson Multimedia a little over a month ago is filled with inherent synergies and potential conflicts. Overlapping product lines, newly unified research-and-development teams, the merging of two management teams—even the question of what the company will officially be called—are all issues still being addressed.

That made Monday's introduction of two companies as one all the more important for the French electronics manufacturer, which purchased an American broadcast industry mainstay.

The driving reason for the acquisition, says Marc Valentin, vice president of Thomson Broadcast Solutions, was simple: More presence, better products.

"Only 20% of our sales were in the U.S. and that doesn't reflect our worldwide market. So we knew we had an issue in growing here in the U.S.," he says. "But the governing thing is the complementary product lines, like servers and modular products."

Even amid the transition, the company has been going through for the past two months, new Thompson Grass Valley products were ready for the exhibit floor in Las Vegas this week.

In addition to the Thomson Viper camera (B&C, April 8), there is the LDK 5000 SD camera with HDTV sensors and the LDK 6000 Mk II camera, which can switch between 1080i and 720p with the help of three, 9.2 million-pixel HD dynamically managed CCDs. Other new products include the standard-definition XtenDD production switcher, a transform engine for the Zodiak switcher, a new 1 mix effect control panel for Kalypso. A new routing switcher, the Trinix 512 ( 512 inputs and 512 outputs in a 32RU chassis), was also available for inspection.

Under the new management structure, Tim Thorsteinson, former president and CEO of Grass Valley Group, will be vice president of the combined switcher, server, digital news production, router, master control, facility control and modular product lines; Rob de Vogel will oversee camera and film imaging lines and customer service for Broadcast Solutions; Jeff Rosica will be vice president, strategic marketing and technology; Patrick Montliaud will be vice president, strategic marketing/sales; and Russ Johnson will be vice president of sales for the U.S. Canada, Mexico and the Caribbean.

The research-and-development side of the new company is where much of the promise of the marriage or potential conflicts will become reality. Thorsteinson, who has made his reputation on his commitment to R&D, says the new R&D team will be split between Europe and the U.S. He says working from two continents does have its advantages.

"There's always a feature set that our guys didn't quite get for the production switchers, or we did big routers when Europe was going to compact routers," he says. "Having a design presence in a geography and having people visit customers there is a tremendous advantage."

Designing products for a worldwide market that may have different approaches to user interfaces will be a challenge. But Valentin says the underlying technical architecture of the products will be the same, while the panels for products like switchers will be different for U.S. and European customers.

"We'll take technologies that we'll try to get as standard as possible in order to drive the cost down and, at the same time, address the customers' specific needs," he says.

Grass Valley is much less vulnerable to economic uncertainty as part of a company with 73,000 employees. "I had customers say to me: 'I was kind of worried last year when I bought that $3 million system from you. You were a small private company that might have difficulty because you don't have resources," says Valentin.

As of NAB 2002, that equation changes.