Radio New Zealand

Taking a lateral approach to extending the life of the existing audio production system has saved the substantial cost of replacement.

Number 8 wire solution solves broadcaster’s headache

Radio New Zealand logoThrough applying technical expertise, a lot of hard work, and a good measure of ingenuity to a $7 million dollar problem, Radio New Zealand (RNZ) has rescued an audio production system from extinction and saved the cash-strapped organisation from a huge financial outlay.

The public broadcaster was faced with replacing its primary audio digital production system, CoStar, because it was becoming obsolete. Simon Dickinson, Technical Manager in News at RNZ, says the manufacturers of the CoStar system had gone out of business and upgrades were no longer being developed.

The system was purchased in the late 1990s and used to streamline audio programme content production in the newsroom. The capital cost of the system was significant, and a huge effort and expense were invested in staff training.

Thirteen years later, the CoStar system is still one of the most critical production systems within RNZ. “It’s core to the success of our business. But it was antiquated and a major risk to the company,” says Ken Law, Deputy Chief Executive.

Rather than purchasing a new digital production system with a price tag of $7 million, one staff member suggested that RNZ approach the CoStar owners and offer to buy the source code for it and all other rights to the system. This would allow RNZ technical staff, who had become specialists in the system, to support it and modify it further to meet RNZ’s evolving needs.

Being effective is getting the job done. Efficiency is providing the same or more while using less resources.

This solution would also avoid significant operational interruption and the staff retraining required by acquiring and commissioning a new system.

After negotiations, the system owners agreed to RNZ’s proposal and the organisation purchased the source code for less than $100,000.

RNZ has subsequently future-proofed the system for a period of about five years and is continuing to modify it to meet current needs. In addition to this, Mr Dickinson says CoStar can be used as a “core” system for many years to come.

Although RNZ cannot market the modified CoStar as a new product, the system has revenue potential. As part of the source code and rights purchase, RNZ can on-sell upgrades and modifications to other organisations that use the system. Broadcasters in Belgium and the Netherlands are potential customers.

Mr Law says there are also a number of potential uses for the modified system in the South Pacific. “We do development and aid work in the Pacific, assisting Pacific nations in their audio production systems. This might be useful to them in the future.”

Mr Law says RNZ is a small organisation that is strapped for resources. Upgrading CoStar in-house has been a very successful initiative. If he were approaching the process again, he says it would have been very helpful to have a dedicated project team, as it has required a lot of work. “The people who are working on it have still been doing their day jobs.”

Although CoStar is specific to radio production, Mr Law says the principle of upgrading systems could be applied to many other organisations.

“Organisations are often purchasing new glossy systems when their old system is operating okay,” he says. “But it’s often not necessary, when more than adequate upgrades to their existing systems can be made. It never ceases to amaze me, the power of a good salesman.”

Based on an interview with Ken Law, Deputy Chief Executive, on 27 June 2012.

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