January's Nielsen online ratings showed audience numbers generally going up for both nzherald.co.nz and stuff.co.nz, with Fairfax reclaiming the top spot in Auckland. So is that growth reflected in online ad spend? Not according to SMI data, which showed that both APN and Fairfax Media went in the wrong direction last year.
The data from September last year, which is based on the spend of 15 media agencies, shows a gradual increase in digital spend from 2009 for both, peaking in 2012 at around $11 million for APN Digital and $7 million for Fairfax Digital. But last year saw a decrease of around $1 million for both.
Slightly less surprisingly, perhaps, the data shows a steady decline in press advertising, with media agency spending on press with both companies almost halving since 2010.
As various studies around the world have shown, the digital dimes newspapers are now getting are nowhere near enough to completely make up for the loss of the analog dollars in print. According to the US-based Pew Research Centre, newspapers lost 15 print ad dollars for every digital ad dollar gained in 2012, worse than the 10:1 ratio in 2011. In New Zealand in 2012, according to SMI, that was slightly worse, with APN declining $9.2 million in press and gaining $490,000 online ($19 to 1) and Fairfax declining $10 million in press and gaining $560,000 online ($18 to 1).
APN released its latest financial report this week (and at the same time announced the full takeover of The Radio Network and Australian Radio Network from US-based Clear Channel Communications for $246.5 million) and while revenue for the New Zealand operations declined by seven percent, it claimed a 16 percent increase in digital ad revenue growth, with strong uplifts in mobile and video revenues. It also said in the report that digital subscriptions were on target for launch in the second half of the year.
When asked about the data, APN said in a statement: "SMI is a great tool covering spend for the majority of agencies. We’ve seen significant growth in areas not included in SMI."
What those areas are was not explained, but it's thought direct spend, which isn't counted by SMI, is increasing (as it is with many other media owners) and there is more of a focus on content-based advertising and integration.
Fairfax marketing director Campbell Mitchell said in a statement: "SMI gives a partial view of the market, including data from a selection of agencies. As an aside, having noted APN's digital revenue movement yesterday, we are extremely happy with our digital growth."
So is SMI data an accurate reflection? Or will its most useful service be, as MPA chair and Tangible publisher John Baker said last year, "to measure the long-term decline of traditional media agency share of wallet and prove that they are like polar bears clinging to their melting piece of ice"?