ON-AIR Systems takes a new direction

Automation Technology Update recently met with Mark Errington, CEO of ON-AIR Systems, to hear about the history of the company and find out where it’s headed

Until 2002, ON-AIR Systems was a supplier of “channel-in-a-box” solutions for broadcasters. It embarked on an expansion plan in 2002, taking on venture capital funding. The next two years saw several changes, many of which were not for the best; by 2004, the company was in big trouble. “When I joined the company that year, I was faced with a confused business model, huge financial losses and a questionable reputation for quality,” Errington said.

Stepping back to the late 1980s, ON-AIR traded as a small, family run company. In the late 1990s, ON-AIR’s first generation of broadcasting solutions were starting to be put into commercial use. Looking to accelerate its growth, the company took the next step, which involved installing playout systems in its own new playout center. Staff would also sell the solutions as part of a complete turnkey installation — the company then became a systems integrator.

That was the business plan, but the reality was an investor’s nightmare. “Systems integration projects were ‘turkey’ rather than ‘turnkey’ projects, each losing money. And because the company was a systems integrator, it couldn’t effectively recruit other systems integrators to sell the software product,” he said.

Taking on playout clients in competition with other playout centers meant that the software couldn’t be sold to other playout centers. By the end of 2004, the company needed to be restructured. The systems integration division was immediately disbanded and the playout center was sold.

Focus on product development

It was clear that the primary product offering was the software. It was also clear that there was under-investment in software development and that the aging hardware platform needed some serious attention and redevelopment.

“With my background in customer focused companies, my first priorities were to get the team working on making the software stable, the hardware reliable and getting first-rate customer support,” Errington said. “Ensuring all three elements were up to scratch took until the middle of 2006, and we worked primarily with our existing customer base.”

The changes started re-shaping the company dramatically. As a result of customer demand, the company implemented vast changes in a short time by stabilizing the product, making it reliable and introducing new features. Rather than using an old model of charging broadcasters for bespoke development, the focus was on improving the products to the benefit of all existing and potential broadcasters.

“In the last 12 months, we’ve released six new versions of software, each with feature improvements requested by broadcasters,” he said.

This year, the company is venturing out beyond its core client base and is taking on new, challenging projects. “We’ve built our confidence back after surviving a turbulent time and moved the company from one of cost cutting and disposals, to one of growth,” he said.

For more information, visit www.on-air-systems.com.