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IPO magic transforms Thomson from dud TV outfit

After years of gloom, suddenly it's lovable again...

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Thomson Multimedia, the flagship French consumer electronics giant, stepped a little closer back into the private sector yesterday with a successful IPO. Shares jumped 35 per cent, putting a $4 billion price tag on the company, so presumably the companies were induced to take stakes in it last year will be pleased. Presumably - because it was never entirely clear what, if anything, Microsoft, Alcatel, DirecTV and NEC put into Thomson Multimedia for their 7.5 per cent apiece stakes. At the time the company, which via its RCA subsidiary is the leading TV vendor in the US, was one of several grim state-owned basket cases that the French government wanted to get shot of. But the presence of the four chums in the shareholder roster, and the areas of expertise they're supposed to be committing to the company, have helped greatly in repositioning Thomson Multimedia from a dud, legacy TV builder to a happening kind of 21st century consumer electronics giant. Alcatel does the digital networking technologies, DirecTV's bag is digital TV devices, interactive and satellite, and NEC contributes DVD and flat panel displays. Microsoft's contribution of WebTV, CE-based set-top boxes and a thirst to get people to install BackOffice might be seen as a debit, but the markets don't necessarily agree. Thomson Multimedia has managed to achieve a small profit for the first time in years, but it still has a long way to go. The French government still owns 51.7 per cent. ®

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