Thomson Buys Thales Broadcast

Thomson is purchasing the broadcast and multimedia division of Thales, a French-based multinational corporation for $155.6 million (130 million euros)

The announcement comes a week after Thomson said it would purchase Canopus, a Japanese developer of nonlinear editing technology for $107 million. Together, the two acquisitions complete Thomson’s two year plan to enhance its Grass Valley division to become a worldwide leader in end to end systems for distributing multimedia content over broadcast, cable, satellite, and the emerging market for sending video over Internet Protocol, also known as IPTV. The agreement also includes a future partnership between Thomson and Thales, TBM’s parent company to develop technologies targeting in-flight entertainment, security and defense.

Thales Broadcast and Multimedia (TBM) division employs approximately 639 worldwide. Total TBM sales for the 12 months ending June 30, 2005 were $161.8 million (134.9 million euros) and the unit was profitable. Overall revenues for the Thales parent company--Europe’s largest defense contractor--were $12 billion in 2004.

TBM manufactures a full line of products and services targeting IP, DVB-H and VOD services, including SmartVision TV, a suite of products and services for IPTV. Unveiled at IBC2005, SmartVision TV is already in use at France Telecom, among others. Thales is also a worldwide developer of radio and television transmission, RF, and test and measurement products.

Marc Valentin, president of the Grass Valley division in Thomson said that Thales’ strong presence in the worldwide broadcast transmission market bodes well for Thomson’s plans to break into mobile TV. Thales was the first broadcast transmitter company to branch off into mobile TV, according to Valentin, who notes Thales’ contracts to provide transmitters and encoders to Crown Castle and Qualcomm, both set to launch mobile TV services in the U.S. in 2006.

“We are very interested in mobile TV,” Valentin said. “We already have been selling mobile DVB-H encoders and are also developing a number of mobile TV terminals within our set-top division and the software itself for mobile TV might be quite similar to what Thales is doing in terms of IPTV.”

Valentin estimates the worldwide IPTV market will eventually grow to approximately $18 billion over the next 4-5 years. Currently, approximately 10 percent of the headend encoders deployed are IP-based, but telcos, cable, satellite and broadcast are all expected to eventually move to some form of IP-based distribution.

“You could possibly say that IPTV would represent 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,” Valentin said.