Ad spend in radio remains stable at $274 million (down slightly from $273 million in 2016), while overall listenership figures show the proportion of New Zealanders listening to radio on a weekly basis growing from 79 to 80 percent.
This is the third consecutive survey where the number of people listening to commercial radio in New Zealand has increased, now up 130,000 to a total audience of 3.3 million people.
It’s generally difficult to get the executives on either side of the commercial divide to agree on much during radio surveys, but there was unanimity in the opinion that the industry as a whole was in good health, considering the extent of digital disruption.
This consensus did not, however, temper the competitiveness that always typifies the survey period. As is always the case, both NZME and MediaWorks claimed victory in their respective media releases.
After two tough surveys, NZME bounced back as Coast, ZM and Newstalk ZB all made big gains in CUME.
NZME (along with its partners) added 150,000 listeners across its network, narrowing MediaWorks’ long-standing overall cumulative lead.
The previous survey showed MediaWorks to be 409,000 listeners ahead of its competitor, while this number now sits at 310,000.
Despite seeing NZME a little closer in the rear-view mirror, MediaWorks programming director Leon Wratt still sees a positive in the fact that MediaWorks had grown its overall audience to the largest it’s ever been and that it still commands the nation's most popular station in the country with The Edge.
“It’s been a very consistent survey for us,” he says. “We’ve added an additional 50,000 listeners overall.”
This is no mean feat, given the massive reach MediaWorks already has across its portfolio.
But nothing is guaranteed when it comes to the survey, and as shown by NZME’s surge, things can change rapidly over a six-month period.
NZME group director of entertainment Dean Buchanan says this increase in listenership is largely attributable to the talent at the network executing the strategy laid out over the past few years.
“It’s good to have a clear strategy in place, but the execution of our content is only getting stronger,” says Buchanan. “The content we produce is world-class and it’s only going from strength to strength.”
The NZME Radio team faced some strong criticism after the previous survey, and Buchanan will no doubt feel pleased that the team has managed to turn things around.
He did, however, warn against viewing surveys in isolation, saying that the long-term success of NZME's radio brands was far more important to him.
On that note, Buchanan joked that he was very optimistic about the future of Hauraki, which based on the last five years should become the number one station in New Zealand by 2093. No doubt Jeremy Wells and Matt Heath will still be there, presenting in cyborg form.
Five stations lifted their overall audience by more than 30,000 listeners.
The biggest winners were Coast and The Breeze, which increased by 45,800 and 41,100 respectively.
The next strongest performer was ZM (up by 38,700), followed by Newstalk ZB (up by 38,100).
Buchanan says he’s particularly pleased with the performance Fletch, Vaughan and Megan, who won the most listeners among 18- to 34-year-olds across the country.
NZME managing editor Shayne Currie also welcomed the recovery of Newstalk ZB after its wobble during the previous survey.
Currie says the station was buoyed by a busy news cycle, featuring the earthquake and two cyclones, and he expects this listener engagement to extend into the election.
However, it wasn’t all good news for the team at ZB, with the station losing station share in Auckland as it slipped from 11.2 percent to 9.6 percent.
Currie says the team will be looking at how to turn this around by the next survey.
When asked for his standout station, Wratt picked Mai FM. And this comes as little surprise given that the station added another 32,800 listeners from the last survey.
This continues a great run of form for the hip-hop station, which has seen it emerge as one of the top performing stations over the last few surveys.
In terms of station share, the biggest winners were Coast (up 0.7 percent), ZM (up 0.7 percent), Radio Hauraki (up 0.3 percent) and Mai (up 0.3 percent).
When you have a finite number of people, then winners always come at the expense of those who have lost listeners.
This time Tarana, Radio Live, The Sound and George FM suffered the biggest drops in listenership.
Tarana slipped by 17,600 listeners from the last survey to post a figure of 49,900.
Radio Live’s drop was more moderate at 10,800, while the Sound lost 9,600 listeners.
Rounding out significant drops was George FM, which lost 5,900 listeners.
In terms of station share, the biggest losses were suffered by More FM (down 0.8 percent), The Rock (down 0.4 percent), Flava (down 0.4 percent) and the Sound (down 0.3 percent).
Life after King Henry
In 2016, when Paul Henry won best talk presenter of the year at the New Zealand Radio Awards, MediaWorks released a tongue-in-cheek gif showing the controversial radio/TV man being crowned by Gandalf.
It was always going to be difficult to replace a personality that big. And with his departure and subsequent replacement by Duncan Garner, the morning talkback slot has become one of the most interesting battles during this survey.
While RadioLive’s breakfast show didn’t beat Mike Hosking's on Newstalk ZB, Henry was performing well and steadily picking up a loyal audience.
The results from the latest survey show that some of that momentum has been lost with Garner picking up the pastel suit.
RadioLive’s overall audience in that timeslot has dropped from 153,900 to 142,000, while Hosking has increased his listenership from 297,900 to 329,600.
NZME managing editor Shayne Currie says this shows that Hosking remains one of the most stable and consistent performers in radio.
Wratt conceded that the show had dropped since the departure of Henry, but veered away from blaming this on Garner.
“I think he performed well given the difficulty in replacing someone like Paul,” Wratt says.
It’s also worth noting that this is the first survey pitting Garner and Hosking against each other, and that the newcomer is still settling into the new role.
Suffice to say this will remain one of the most interesting radio battles during the coming surveys.
In fact, Hosking and Garner will also be going head to head for best talk presenter at the NZ Radio Awards in July.
The ASA’s recent ad spend figures also showed that radio’s digital revenue still only contributed a tiny percentage of overall spend on the channel at $4 million.
Wratt says that it will be a priority for the commercial networks to ensure that this number is increased in the coming years.
MediaWorks took a big step in this direction in January with the launch of Rova, its online listening platform.
Since its release, Rova has had 125,000 app downloads, 105,000 registered users and 65,000 unique monthly users resulting in over 700,000 streams per month.
This is still some way behind the 604,000 subscribers tallying up over 2.1 million hours of listening on NZME’s iHeartRadio, but it certainly adds to the digital footprint of radio in New Zealand.
NZME chief commercial officer Laura Maxwell says it’s imperative for the industry to focus on monetising their digital and social platforms (She does, however, add that the digital number reported by the ASA does not include fully integrated campaigns, which are categorised under radio).
As things stand at the moment, local radio stations are in a relatively privileged position of attracting around 10.6 percent of overall spend, which is more than double what it is in Australia or the UK.
But there is no guarantee that this will continue. More money will inevitably move across to digital. And as that happens, the radio industry will want to be sure it has a few options in place to attract some of that migrating cash.