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RNZ on the rise: latest survey shows an increased audience while government increases funding—UPDATED

Radio New Zealand has plenty to celebrate this week as the latest round of GfK radio survey results showing it reaches 682,700 New Zealanders (10+) each week, while the government is giving it $4.5 million directly as well as further budget with NZ On Air. PLUS: A look at what other local media think of RNZ+.

By Erin McKenzie | July 12, 2018 | news

After seeing its numbers fall over summer, RNZ National has drawn listeners back in with 606,300 New Zealanders (10+) tuning in each week. That's up 36,900 from the 569,400 in the first survey of the year.

RNZ Concert is also up, with 178,500 New Zealanders (10+) tuning in, after 145,800 were recorded in the first survey of the year.

The combination means 682,700 New Zealanders (10+) tune into an RNZ station every week. Looking at radio as a whole, 3,660,100 New Zealanders (10+) listen to radio each week, with NZME's combo 1,942,000 of those and MediaWorks’ combo 2,435,800.

RNZ National's audience boost sees the station return to second place for its weekly cumulative reach when comparing it to the commercial stations. It sits between The Edge’s 621,500 weekly audience of New Zealanders (10+) and More FM’s 566,400.

Head of radio and music David Allan credits the growth to its breakfast performance, saying it's an important part of the day for all radio stations.

RNZ National's weekday 6am-9am time slot grew 32,700 in this survey, giving Morning Report an audience of 457,100 New Zealanders (10+).

It’s followed by More FM’s 359,400 and Newstalk ZB’s 359,300.

And when comparing RNZ National to its fellow talk stations, Newstalk ZB and RadioLive, it is well ahead of the pack both in the 6am-9am time slot, and when looking at total weekly cumulative reach.

RadioLive has 139,300 listeners in the time slot and Newstalk has 359,300 listeners.

It’s worth noting that while Morning Report and RadioLive’s The AM Show run 6am-9am, Newstalk ZB’s Mike Hosking Breakfast runs from 6am-8.30am.

RNZ National’s growth is not limited to its morning performance, with all time slots getting a boost. Saturday 12mn-12mn saw the biggest boost, up 34,500, followed by the weekday 12mn-4pm time slot growth of 33,100. It gives each time slot an audience of 357,200 and 341,100 respectively.

Allan says it’s great to see growth across all time slots and gives a special shout out the RNZ National’s 9-12md performance. The Nine to Noon with Kathryn Ryan show grew 22,300 to reach 318,800—it’s biggest audience since GfK surveys began.

While RNZ National leads the way for talk stations, Allan says it was a good survey for all, following a softer survey one after the summer period.

For total weekly cumulative audiences, Newstalk ZB saw the addition of 16,300 listeners to reach 505,200 and RadioLive was up 12,800 to reach 217,600.

Beyond the radio, 586,000 users accessed the RNZ website in an average week during the research period and more than 199,000 video streams took place on RNZ platforms.

“It’s good to be where we are,” says Allan, who says the numbers are a tribute to the effort put in by all crews day in, day out.

“When I talk about teams, it’s not just radio, it’s out social media division, video and digital team. Social and video play a leading part in feeding back into the radio audience.”

RNZ’s content is also generating views outside of RNZ’s platforms, with RNZ increasing its content sharing to have around 25 partners including Fairfax, NZMETVNZ, Pacific Media Centre, local newspapers, and start-up websites.

And RNZ looks set to have more content to potentially share as the government has announced how the $15 million injection into public broadcasting will be allocated.

RNZ is the big winner as broadcasting minister Clare Curran announced it is getting $4.5 million to extend its services and reach more people in different ways. It’s a move she said in the announcement, “will take RNZ several steps closer towards becoming a fully multiplatform audio-visual public media organisation provisionally titled RNZ+”.

A further $4 million will go to NZ On Air to support the production of diverse local content.

RNZ and NZ On Air will be brought together, with the local production sector, through a $6 million innovation fund. It will see RNZ commission content in a joint venture with NZ On Air to encourage the creation of more public media content.

“Quality New Zealand programming and journalism are crucial to our national identity and we need this type of innovative ongoing and sustainable resourcing,” said Curran.

The final $500,000 will be used to research how crown-funded media agencies can use their assets more effectively and work out the level of funding required for an effective public media well into the future.

Curran says it’s to enhance the voice of independent public service media and help people tell the stories that reflect and reinforce our unique culture. However, she did say RNZ and NZ On Air will make their own final decisions on content and how the money is spent.

“The outcome should be additional in-depth news and current affairs, as well as content for the underserved audience, such as Maori and Pacific communities, children and people live in regional areas.”

“All New Zealanders must be able to see and hear themselves reflected in public media,” said Curran.

RNZ chief executive Paul Thompson was at the announcement and called the $4.5 million a “dose of steroids”, allowing it to go faster and stronger with its current planning and things it wants to do.

He is also excited to work with NZ On Air through the innovation fund to create rich multimedia content for RNZ’s platforms, which it will “probably be happy to share” if there’s interest in that.

“I’m most encouraged by the clear signal that this is a down payment on some bigger thinking and more increased funding in future years.”

When the initial $38 million injection from the government was announced last year, before being reduced to $15 million in the budget, a new commercial-free and free-to-air TV channel was discussed.

However, where that idea stands today is unclear as Thompson says some of the new video content “will be on the big screen in the living room but you are more likely to be watching it on your mobile or tablet”.

“At present, the concept of any formal linear station being the centre of RNZ+ is not on our horizon.”

When The Spinoff managing editor Duncan Greive reported on the announcement, he predicted the content will be housed on a “Nextflix-style library, which is effectively what channels are evolving into. And that will be called RNZ+". 

StopPress contacted TVNZ for a comment about what the allocation means for commercial stations and it declined to comment. We have also contacted Maori TV and will update the story accordingly.

MediaWorks CEO Michael Anderson spoke to StopPress following the latest announcements and is supportive of the increase in funding to both RNZ and NZ On Air.

"Funding that helps [RNZ] to be able to create the appropriate cross-media platforms, and funding that helps them to create even more relevant content, we are very supportive of."

He adds "NZ On Air is world's best practice in terms of what it does, and the way it goes about its business" so additional funding there and the shared funding on the innovation projects all makes sense to MediaWorks.

However, where MediaWorks does see room for improvement is the lack of a dedicated public service, free-to-air TV channel.

And while a solution this has been suggested in RNZ+, what Anderson sees as a more efficient solution is a reconsideration of TVNZ and how it can play a part, as it is state-owned and already has the expertise.

"That is the area we believe will be the most efficient and effective area to look in in terms of creating the opportunity," says Anderson.

Aside from TVNZ already having the expertise, Anderson adds the addition of another channel could be detrimental to the already fragmented media landscape.

“In New Zealand, you only have five million people here. There’s not a lot of audience to support ongoing fragmentation," he says.

"It doesn’t take much fragmentation to create problems in a market of five million."

He says the decisions being made now are critical to the future in terms of media, diversity, news, and functioning business models in New Zealand, and with that MediaWorks would like to see ongoing dialogue about that now, rather than down the line.

"It’s been interesting as it unfolds but we are not at real crunch time on these things," says Anderson.

Though TVNZ is not commenting on the latest announcement, its head of news and current affairs, John Gillespie, did comment earlier this year when NZ Marketing talked to him about what RNZ+ might look like. Regardless of whether or not RNZ does move into the TV space, he does not see it as a threat to TVNZ's offering.

He told NZ Marketing the questions should be: what does that mean for the wider market?

“It’s about all the players and if you pour a whole lot of money over there, which I’m not saying they will or won’t, that will make a difference to the overall market.”  

Stuff editorial director Mark Stevens also spoke to NZ Marketing about the potential of RNZ+, and he said he struggles with the thinking and reasoning behind sharing the additional finding between RNZ and NZ On Air.

“If you look around the country, RNZ’s not really in the regions. It’s not creating local journalism in the regions or certainly not to the level that companies like ours have been for many years.”

Similar concerns have been seen in the UK with its government funding the BBC putting local democracy reporting at risk. Stevens explained its solution was the establishment of a Local News Partnerships scheme.

For it, the BBC is funding 58 news organisations in England, Scotland and Wales to cover the employment costs of democracy reporters. When announced in December 2017, there were contracts to employ 143 full-time and two part-time reporters and the stories written by them will then be shared with over 700 media organisations that are part of the scheme.

In the announcement on the BBC, controller of BBC English regions, David Holdsworth said: “This is a major advance in the partnership which will significantly improve the reporting on councils and public institutions, leading to greater public accountability for our local politicians.”

Closer to home, NZME managing editor Shayne Currie also weighed in on RNZ+ when speaking to NZ Marketing earlier this year, saying he believes there are great opportunities for NZME to be able to get a slice of the funding, be it from NZ On Air or any government funding.

Already, it’s receiving NZ On Air funding for projects including ‘The Road to Rhythm – 15 years of Rhythm and Vines’ and ‘Kiwi Women who changed the World’ but, like Stuff, Currie gives its regional reporting as another possible incentive for it to receive funding.

“There’s no reason NZME can’t have a share,” he told NZ Marketing. “We are a media business and we are investing a lot of time and money and resource into regional journalism, into our metropolitan newsrooms and we have regional newsrooms and they are each telling those stories.”

But RNZ may not be behind in the regional coverage for much longer, as regional areas are one of the areas Curran identified as seeing additional in-depth news and current affairs from.

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