Hard News by Russell Brown


Understanding the Audiences

The Radio New Zealand press release announcing its new survey results arrived last Thursday under a very restrained billing: the headline was 'RNZ Radio Research Results'. At the time of writing, the release doesn't even appear on the broadcaster's media releases page.

It fell to the Sunday Star Times to go with the more celebratory Bloody marvellous! John Campbell and Morning Report lead RNZ to a ratings resurgence, and to declare Newstalk ZB's Mike Hosking "dethroned" by Morning Report.

It's a very strong result for RNZ, not least because it puts to bed the awkward audience slump of 2014, which saw the cume (ie: weekly cumulative audience) for RNZ National and Concert dip below 500,000 and led CEO Paul Thompson to venture that his strategic changes were generating "speed wobbles".

The new survey has the two stations' cume at an impressive 600,200. But even that recovery had already happened. In January RNZ was able to report a cume of 564,000, or about where it was before Thompson turned up as a change agent. Further, Morning Report, Nine to Noon, Midday Report, The Panel, Checkpoint, Saturday Morning and Sunday Morning are the most popular shows in their respective timeslots, by both cume and share (ie: the share of all radio listening at the time).

Morning Report attracting more listeners than Newstalk ZB Breakfast isn't actually a new thing – in 2012, for example, Morning Report, hosted by Geoff Robinson and Simon Mercep, was found to be the most popular radio show in the country, with an average 342,000 listeners.

The difference is that those earlier figures were in the survey RNZ has long commissioned from Neilsen, and not the same ratings survey by which the commercial stations live or die. That separation, and Radio New Zealand's parsimonious approach in publishing the results (it had more information about individual show performance than it ever released) has often led critics to suppose that RNZ was somehow scared to be compared to commercial broadcasters.

In truth, the commercial stations hated having RNZ in "their" survey much more than RNZ disliked being there – for the simple reason that having the large public radio audience in the mix accordingly reduced their share numbers. But RNZ is in the new survey conducted by the Australian company GfK, which took over the commercial ratings from Research International last year, after a messy period in which there was no overall commercial ratings survey.

And, as Stop Press explained last week, a face-saving agreement has been reached:

The results come a week after the results for the commercial market but was in line with an agreement between the Radio Broadcasters Association and RNZ.

The industry felt a separation would ensure commercial radio results and RNZs results are given the appropriate level of exposure, and there would be no confusion in the market, according to a GfK release.

This is the first set of nationwide results under GfK’s new research methodology that has brought together RNZ and the commercial stations in one rating system.

While it is possible to compare RNZ to its commercial competitors, GfK said the station shares (percentages) cannot be compared. This is because the share results in the commercial radio reports are based on all commercial radio listening and the share results in the RNZ report are based on total New Zealand radio listening.

This produces a contradiction when the numbers are put together. Morning Report has a weekly audience of 385,900 people, which it converts to a 13.8% share of all people listening at that time. Newstalk ZB's Hosking Breakfast show attracts a weekly audience of only 342,000, which it is entitled to state as a 15.6% share.

So the commercial networks get to claim their own station shares, RNZ can truthfully claim to be the clear leader in news radio and The Edge's well-engineered pop fare makes it the most listened-to individual station in the land.


Although GfK was chosen by the Radio Broadcasters Association as the new radio ratings company in part because of its expertise in measuring digital audiences, only conventional broadcast ratings have been published so far. But, by chance I think, NZ On Air published the second round of its intriguing Where are the Audiences? survey last week too.

The first instance of this survey was conducted in 2014 by Colmar Brunton. This year's was carried out by Glasshouse Consulting, but let's assume they're comparable apart from stated changes, which include the addition of questions about devices used to consume media and and "simultanous media consumption" or so-called second-screen use. Use of local and international SVOD (subscriber video on demand) was measured separately this time and there were questions about webseries viewing.

The trends are about what you'd expect: the weekly reach of linear TV (both pay and free-to-air), live radio and newspapers has declined in the past two years. A remarkable 35% of us are using SVOD services weekly, and more than two thirds of that audience is using local services. Online radio listening is up from 12% to 18% and the growth is all local. Time spent watching video on sites such as Facebook and YouTube has more than doubled to 40 minutes a day.

Listening to music on CD or "iPod" (which seems to mean offline listening) is down from 69% to 53% weekly and listening to music on Spotify has nearly doubled to 21%. Music streaming across all services has increased fivefold in two years, with 59% using it on a given day.

There's a nice little nugget buried in there for RNZ: the daily reach of RNZ National has bucked the trends and edged up from 12% to 13% of the population – against a small decline in overall radio listening.

Although linear TV still attracts more consumers than any other medium,  by a large margin – 81% of us watch it on a given day – the biggest differentiator in using alternatives is age. The younger you are, the more online media you're likely to consume.

But ... that doesn't apply to New Zealand-made webseries. One in 10 of us have watched a local webseries, but they're most popular not among the otherwise online-friendly under 25 year-olds, but in the 25-44 demographic, of whom 16% said they'd watched one. There's a problem here and I suspect it's the same one faced by local music – getting noticed amid the vast international offerings.

But it's actually worse in some ways for local webseries, because they're scattered across a range of places (NZME's NZ On Air funded webseries, for example, are exclusive to NZME's WatchMe website). Even if you're watching via TVNZ OnDemand, a low-budget webseries will tend to get lost amid catch-up viewing for flagship TV shows. Given that some of the best creative work is being done in that format, this is going to take some thinking about. NZ On Air may have to look at trying to aggregate the webseries it funds and putting them in as many places as possible – including the SVOD services.

Anyway, there's much more in Where Are the Audiences?, so feel free to dig around that and the GfK site and see what strikes you.

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