RNZ cans live stream, takes up with Xtra

Radio New Zealand is holding firm to its decision to withdraw permission for a live streaming service of National Radio that has been run by a private company for five years.

Radio New Zealand is holding firm to its decision to withdraw permission for a live streaming service of National Radio that has been run by a private company for five years.

The publicly-owned broadcaster has already begun a pilot for a new Internet audio offering based on Windows Media Player with Xtra - but that won't include a 24-hour live stream.

RNZ signed a contract allowing the Wellington company AWACS to provide a RealPlayer-based version of the National Radio service over the Internet in 1996. The company has run a paid subscription service since then, although casual users can visit the site and listen to a 10 minute stream.

AWACS director Michael Sutton has posted a "survey" form on his site prompting his subscribers to "email correspondence to people with power and influence", including the Prime Minister and the chairman of the RNZ board. A visit to his service's home page brings up a small streaming movie in which Sutton pleads his case.

When the stream stops on April 1 it will bring to an end an intriguing chapter. Although Sutton was a pioneer in delivering local radio over the Internet, and his encoding and delivery of the signal was technically able, his eccentric Web design has long been a matter of debate.

When the site first launched, visitors were directed to download a once-only 500Kb of data that would be cached for previous visits. The use of multiple framesets and Java applets and the fact that it's impossible to visit the service's home page without launching RealPlayer were all the subject of criticism. For two years, Sutrton's site was RNZ's only representation on the internet, but it now has its own corporate site.

Radio New Zealand spokesman John Barr says "adverse publicity about the site's operation" was a factor in the decision to withdraw permission.

But he says the key issues were that "it simply duplicated our existing and planned radio service without adding substantial value and raised significant copyright and royalty issues, which had the potential to breach RNZ contracts with distributors."

Barr says simply running a stream is a "passive use of the new technology" and the pilot underway with Xtra is more "interactive".

Barr says the broadcaster has not simply cut off Sutton, and allowed AWACS to continue live streaming without charge even after the original contract expired in 1999, "in order that that company could fulfil its obligations to subscribers."

He says "AWACS have been advised of our strategy and invited to develop their own website proposal consistent with it. They have not yet done so."

Barr says RNZ "is not funded to provide internet services and will not subsidise any commercial venture."

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