Shaking off the housing doldrums, tech powerhouse Linear, seemingly having more brands than General Mills has cereal boxes, is shaking up its whole house automation, security, lighting, and HVAC control stable by creating a new audio, video, and control group. Headed by Mark Terry, the group combines Niles Audio, Xantech, and ELAN Home Systems and includes such brands as Aton, Sunfire, and HomeLogic. The business unit is based in Carlsbad, Calif.


"The formation of this new group, and the appointment of Mark Terry to lead it, marks the start of an exciting new chapter in the history of each of these iconic brands," comments Grant Rummell, Linear’s chairman. "Niles, Xantech, and ELAN have all played historic roles in the markets they serve. Now, joined together into one business unit, they will continue to shape the future of their markets. Working together they will be able to collaborate on the development of new technologies that will result in a new generation of audio, video, and control system solutions that meet the whole house automation, security, lighting and HVAC needs of our global customer base. And I can think of no one more qualified to lead these great brands into the future than Mark Terry, the former president of the Harman Pro Group."


The move also indicates an industry-wide realization that there is more silver lining than ominous clouds these days when it comes to technology in residential housing and that a new generation of buyers will expect more and diverse connections inside and to their homes.


“As you no doubt know, our industry is directly tied to the fortune of the residential housing market,” points out Terry. “And that market has been severely impacted for the last two years.  Our sales have been affected accordingly, and, while we cannot predict when the housing market will begin a sustained recovery, we do believe that it has bottomed out.”


He adds, “We also believe that, as it recovers, a new generation of home buyers will be entering the market. This generation of buyers has grown up with devices that provide them with integrated control over discrete applications.  They will expect their houses to feature whole home automation control functionality.  Our goal as a group is to be ready with the next generation of fully differentiated, feature-rich automation system solutions that meet the needs of specific market segments.”


In assuming this new position, Terry will stress the benefits that will inevitably come from greater collaboration among the brands. "Our goal is to create a larger portfolio of clearly defined, integrated, and networked-based product offerings that bring meaningful innovation and value to our whole house automation, lighting, security and HVAC control customers. Together we will create a new group that is greater than our individual parts. This is what we achieved at Harman and it is precisely what we will achieve here at Linear."


Linear LLC is a subsidiary of Nortek Inc. Its home technology group is an over-arching designation for a segment of home electronics companies acquired in recent years that includes 14 manufacturers producing brands in categories such as stereo and home theater speakers, distributed audio and video systems, lighting controls, structured wiring systems, residential and commercial security and access control equipment, and Internet-connected media products.


Changes at Linear seem to foreshadow changes across the market.


“The state of the economy over the last two years, coupled with the pace of new developments in technology, has fundamentally changed our market,” observes Terry. “And we need to change to meet the needs of this new market. The reality is that everyone in this industry has suffered declines in sales in pace with the decline of the overall economy and the decline of the housing market in particular. At the same time, technology has not stood still. It has shifted from an AV focus to a home automation focus, from proprietary systems to IP systems, from physical media content to streaming media content.”


The new group president also sees value in coordinated research and development initiatives. But dealers, integrators and installers of home electronics should not expect immediate changes. “Our challenge is to leverage our collective capabilities into new technologies that will be introduced in 2011 and 2012.  I feel confident that you will see some very exciting innovations in that timeframe,” says Terry.