December 16, 2005 12:47 PM PST
Is Commodore poised for a comeback?
No, Lionel Richie isn't signing up with his old band. We're talking about Commodore, the venerable computer brand.
A Dutch consumer media company is hoping it can tap the power of the VIC 20, the PET and the Commodore 64 to launch a new wave of products, including a home media center device and a portable GPS (Global Positioning System) unit and media player.
Yeahronimo Media Ventures, which has offices in Los Angeles and Baarn, the Netherlands, acquired the rights to the Commodore name late last year in a deal worth just over $32.7 million. Earlier this year, it took on Commodore as its own corporate moniker. The rebranded company already has some products available in Europe and on its Web site, but hopes to enter the U.S. market at the Computer Electronics Show in Las Vegas in January.
In an interview, Commodore CEO Ben van Wijhe said the company bought the Commodore name with the idea of tapping its reputation for games and multimedia.
"It is not only the brand name but also the heritage of Commodore that interested us," he said.
The company has said it plans to launch three products at the show. The Commodore MediaBox is an all-in-one home entertainment box with an Internet connection, digital TV tuner and hard drive for playing music downloads, games or on-demand video. The Commodore Navigator is a Windows CE-based portable device with a 20GB hard drive for music and video storage as well as built-in GPS and a 3.6-inch touch screen.
Commodore is far from the first company to try to revive a once-popular tech brand. The Amiga, Commodore's onetime PC brand, has had its own decades-long history as fans tried to preserve both the computer's operating system and brand despite the lack of strong corporate backing.
Gateway had hopes of reinvigorating the Amiga PC when it bought the name and technology in 1997, but eventually scrapped its plans and sold the brand in 1999. Efforts to keep the computer's OS alive, however, have continued into the current decade.
Another '80s game name, Atari, bounced among several owners before making a comeback earlier this decade. Gamemaker Infogrames acquired Atari's name and game titles in 2001 and began using Atari as its own corporate name in May 2003. Meanwhile, Atari's classic games have also found new life in low-end TV consoles and cell phones.
Napster is perhaps one of the best-known recent transformations, with an authorized music subscription service taking on the brand built as the first of many rebel peer-to-peer file-sharing systems.
Van Wijhe said he has heard from a lot of Commodore and Amiga fans in the 12 months since his company announced plans to acquire the well-known name.
"People were looking at us very close to see what we were going to do with it," he said. "We got thousands of e-mails of people that wanted to work for us and with us."
Commodore itself, though, is quite small, currently employing about 50 people with annual sales of around 40 million euros ($48 million).
"We're growing fast, very fast," Van Wijhe said.
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