Technicolor reinventing itself

Iconic Hollywood lab cues new hue

Like an aging movie franchise in need of a box office jolt, Technicolor is getting a reboot.

The 95-year-old Hollywood lab and technology company is shedding subsidiaries, returning to its roots as an on-set technology provider, branching out into new areas, extending its brand to consumer products, moving into a new HQ — even getting a new logo.

And amid all this activity, it’s offering Hollywood a mea culpa for its own recent “arrogance” and promising a new openness in its dealings with the industry.

“We were relying on our legacy and relying on the studios to trust us,” chief marketing officer Ah-mad Ouri told Daily Variety. “That’s not enough.”

An iconic name in the business, Technicolor was associated with the color process used widely in many celebrated films over three decades including “The Wizard of Oz,” “Singin’ in the Rain” and “Fantasia.” For years, the company has been quietly transforming itself from a film-focused lab to a company providing all manner of digital services, including digital intermediate and visual effects.

But along the way, it also acquired a slew of peripheral businesses far afield from its core. That, along with parent company Thomson’s initial drive to stress its own brand over Technicolor’s, diluted the value and meaning of the Technicolor name.

So starting today, Technicolor is launching a multipronged plan to revive its brand in the professional and consumer arenas.

Shareholders of Thomson, Technicolor’s French parent, will vote in Paris today on whether to change the name of the entire conglom to Technicolor.

The rebranding of the parent company and the refocusing of Technicolor represent a rare victory for Old Hollywood over the forces of globalization. Thomson bought Technicolor in 2001 for $2.1 billion, a third of that paid in Thomson stock, and quickly set about rebranding it as “Thomson Techicolor.” But that rebranding effort is now being reversed, with the support of CEO Frederic Rose, and power is shifting to California.

Thomson is a respected electronics manufacturer and an important builder of set-top boxes. But, “We chose the Technicolor name because it’s most relevant to content creators and distributors,” said Ouri, as those sectors will be the new focus of the company. Dropped from the mix: services for retailers and exhibitors.

As a result, company is selling broadcast equipment maker Grass Valley, cinema advertising company Screenvision, point-of-sale advertising firm PRN and digital signage provider Convergent.

Company will get a new logo reflecting its move away from film services. It will be unveiled next month.

Technicolor already took a financial hit selling its consumer electronics businesses. However, Ouri says Technicolor has been a strong contributor to Thomson’s bottom line, even while Thomson has struggled with massive debt.

Ouri, based in Hollywood, recently became chief marketing officer for the entire company, and Rose now visits from Paris at least once a month.

Technicolor also is returning to its roots in production support. While it no longer needs to send engineers to wrangle its giant three-strip film cameras, its plans stress products and services like its “DP lights” system, which brought a common color-correction language to movies and video for the first time.

Cinematographer Daryn Okada, former three-term prexy of the ASC, said: “I think that the company, from the top down now, is being very responsive to filmmakers. It’s being run as a very creative endeavor.”

Okada also hailed a shift in Technicolor’s thinking. “They’re not taking a wait-and-see approach; they’re taking a proactive approach.”

Ouri admitted the company had become “inwardly focused” and suffered from its own “arrogance,” having ignored partnership opportunities. He promises the new Technicolor will be more open to partnerships and cooperation with other companies, including camera makers and software developers.

Techicolor will also move to become a consumer brand for the first time. Plans include “ingredient branding” — a “Powered by Technicolor” label in the vein of “Intel Inside” — for products that use the company’s color science, such as Web video.

Though Technicolor’s history extends back nearly a century, some in the post-production community complained that it no longer remembered its own history, and so couldn’t consistently draw on its own experience to help solve problems.

“I don’t disagree,” responded Ouri, “That’s one of my challenges, to bring that awareness back.”

The company’s new HQ at Sunset-Gower Studios is part of that plan.

Okada said the company’s various facilities used to each have their own workflows, but “Now that they have one fantastic central facility, there’s dialogue among these people now.”

Ouri said the company will be drawing on some of its longtime staffers and technologists, such as senior VPs Tim Reynolds and Dana Ross, to rebuild the company’s sense of itself.

“These people are here,” he said. “You cut them and they bleed Technicolor.”