Generally, the radio survey coincides with a tornado of rushed interviews, press releases and victory-claiming promotions from both sides of the commercial network divide. This time, however, the survey results uncharacteristically wafted by with little response from either side.
In lieu of the usual slew of branded ads featuring the likes of Mike Hosking and the rest of NZME crew, the network this time took out a single ad on trade publications pointing readers to the results of the study it commissioned—notably, without any NZME logos attached.
The results in this instance did come with good news for NZME in that they again showed Newstalk ZB's dominance across the nation. In both Christchurch and Auckland, the talkback station had the highest levels of engagement among all radio brands, with listeners spending the most time tuned in to the station.
The station also had the highest number of listeners in Auckland with 176,200 Kiwis tuning in every week. This was followed by the Edge with 157,300, Coast with 130,000, Breeze with 124,600 and ZM with 122,100.
In terms of Auckland's station share, Newstalk ZB enjoyed a 13.7 percent of the total amount of time that Kiwis spent listening to the radio, well above the 10.4 percent share of second-placed Coast. Breeze (6.6 percent), the Edge (6.1 percent) and the Hits (5.2 percent) completed the top five.
Breeze was the leader in Wellington, with the station enjoying the highest levels of engagement in terms of both station share (16.1 percent) and number of listeners (45,800). Newstalk ZB placed second in terms of station share (15.2 percent), but came further down the pack in fourth place in terms of number of listeners (34,500).
The Sound on 7.8 percent, the Edge on 7.2 percent and Coast on 7.1 percent rounded up Wellington's top five in terms of station share. In terms of listener numbers, ZM placed second on 39,100, the Edge came in at third on 37,600 and the Hits was fifth with 30,500 listeners.
Illustrating the nuances in listening preferences across the regions, Christchurch also had a different leader in terms listener numbers, with More Fm taking top spot by attracting 66,600 Kiwis on a weekly basis. The Edge placed second with 55,800 listeners, Newstalk ZB third on 50,900, the Breeze fourth on 49,600 and ZM fifth on 42,200.
The order of the top five was markedly different when it came to share. Following Newstalk ZB's 14.8 percent was More FM on 14.5 percent, The Sound on 10.7 percent, Breeze on 9.9 percent and the Rock on 8.1 percent (the Edge came in at sixth on 7.5 percent).
This radio survey, conducted by TNS, was commissioned by NZME and three independent broadcasters, following an industry announcement earlier this year that the T1 radio survey would not take place on account of need to update the research methodology, which had until then relied on an antiquated diary system.
At first it appeared as though both commercial networks had come to an agreement not to run the T1 survey, but it was later revealed that NZME was always opposed to cancelling the survey. MediaWorks justified its opposition to the survey on account of a need for the research methodology to be updated.
NZME concurred that the data needed to be updated, but did not believe it was in the interests of advertisers to cancel the T1 survey and, as a consequence, commissioned TNS to conduct the survey.
TNS managing director Jason Shoebridge says that that the methodology used in this survey was somewhat different, in that a greater proportion of the sample group—consisting of the standard number of 6,000 Kiwis—completed the diary online.
"In the previous surveys, almost 100 percent of the sample completed paper diaries," Shoebridge says. "This time, approximately 80 percent of the sample completed a paper diary. There was absolutely no difference in methodology for the sample. For the 20 percent who completed online diaries, they completed a diary giving the same information as the paper diary. The biggest difference between the samples, which was positive, was that we were able to get more respondents in the 20 to 29 age group, a group who are often underrepresented using the paper diary, to complete an online diary which has meant that the combined sample contains a proportion of 20- to 29-year-olds much closer to the proportion in the population. We also tested the two samples to identify if there were differences in listenership between them once demographic characteristics are taken into account. For 53 of the 59 stations covered in the survey there was no statistical difference between the two samples."
This change of approach does however make it difficult to compare these statistics to those that were released in previous TNS surveys. A shift in terms of how 20 percent of the data is collected is significant enough put a question mark over whether the figures are in fact comparable.
Out of interest, however, it is worth noting that Newstalk ZB has increased its hold on the Auckland market when compared to the figures released a year ago—and this has further bridged the gap between the station and its talkback competitor RadioLive (regional results for Christchurch and Wellington were previously not released to the press by TNS a year ago).
In addition, Coast shifted from sixth place in terms of listenership to third and held onto second place in terms of engagement. Mai FM, which previously occupied fifth place in listenership slipped to six, and also went down in share from seventh to eighth.
And Although Breeze dropped in listenership from third to fourth position, the station improved its share ranking by moving from fourth to third.
In a report on the Herald, Newstalk ZB was "crowned" as the most popular station in Auckland, but it is worth noting that the survey period ran between 21 February 2015 and 4 April 2015 and therefore does not take the impact of Paul Henry's new cross-channel show into account. And for this reason, the survey set to be released nearer the end of the year is likely to serve up a better indication of how the talkback stoush between the two networks is going.
MediaWorks has thus far distanced itself from the most recent survey release, with spokesperson Rachel Lorimer saying that it has not been backed by the industry.
"When it comes to the NZME survey, we support the view of the Radio Broadcasters Association that credible radio audience measurement comes from an independent survey that is endorsed by the industry, and research commissioned by individual companies should not be made public," Lorimer said.
It is not unusual for companies to commission research independently and then release this to the public, but MediaWorks was caught off-guard in this instance, making it difficult to prepare the usual promotional campaigns designed to push up listener numbers during the survey period. And this, it could be argued, gave NZME an unfair advantage in the lead up to the results being released.
Depending on how significant they see this advantage, media agencies could be divided as to whether they rely on this survey or the previous one (which had the backing of the whole industry). This will however, be an internal decision that each media agency has to make of its own accord.
Due to the industry not following the usual procedure during the survey period, Radio Broadcasters Association (RBA) chief executive Bill Francis also distinguishes the NZME-commissioned survey from a traditional survey: "The RBA doesn't hold a position on the just-released survey. There is no industry-wide survey for survey one, and the one just released was independently commissioned by NZME for their own use."
NZME has responded to claims that this survey is different by pointing out that the research was conducted by TNS and then verified by PWC.
"It's important to note that while NZME and other independent stations have funded it, the survey was conducted, as it has been twice a year for the past 20 years, by TNS – who are 100 percent independent of NZME," an NZME spokesperson says. "In addition to this, PWC has performed procedures to establish the robustness and independence of the methodology and process applied to produce the survey results."
And though unconventional to commission the survey, NZME commercial director Sandra King previously told StopPress that the move was made because advertisers demand more data to make informed decisions—and this sentiment was again reiterated by the media company.
"Advertisers and agencies rely heavily on the radio survey data when building campaign plans for their clients," says the spokesperson. "Providing agencies with up to date independent data was always the motivation behind NZME and the other independent stations funding the research. NZME continues to work with the industry to develop industry-wide survey methodologies moving forward."
Later this year, when the revamped T2 survey is set to be released, things should return to normal, and the silence that has accompanied this release will also likely be substituted with the usual survey excitement as both sides respond to the results that are backed by the whole industry.
The industry is still working out the details of the new survey methodology behind closed doors, and this has led to speculation on what the new survey might look like (Shoebridge was asked whether TNS would be conducting the research for the new survey, but he said that this is a decision to be made by the industry).
Recently, in a column for NZ Marketing, the chief investment officer at OMG Scott Keddie recommended that the industry should only release a single survey a year, rather than the traditional two.
"The survey needs to move away from a confined period and move towards a system similar to that employed by Radio NZ, which surveys across 40 weeks of the year (February-November)," Keddie said. "Recall would improve, which would result in data that is more accurate and reflective of radio consumption across the country."
Keddie then also went further and called for the inclusion of digital-streaming services in the revamped survey.
"How we measure audience engagement across platforms would present an opportunity for the likes of Pandora and Spotify to be considered within the survey and have a say in the future of radio measurement – from my point of view, they should be in partnership with the radio networks as part of this review."
And while it is unclear at this stage what the new survey will look like, both sides are likely to re-emerge from this quiet patch and celebrate the results with the partisan enthusiasm that we've come to expect.