The third radio survey of the year gives RNZ National a weekly audience of 625,500 listeners, just 300 shy of the nation’s biggest radio station, The Edge.
The narrowing of the gap between the two stations is attributable to what has been described as strong urban and talk book.
The commercial results, released last week, showed growth for both the talk and hip-hop stations, which in turn led to drops for some of the entertainment brands, as evidenced by the decline of 21,400 listeners for the Edge.
On the flip side, both Newstalk ZB and RadioLive enjoyed good surveys, growing their overall audiences by 8,100 and 11,800 listeners, respectively.
The strong talk trend continued this week, with the non-commercial figures showing an increase of 6,400 listeners for RNZ national.
The 625,500 figure is a record for RNZ National, and it's also up markedly on the first survey of the year, when RNZ National posted a result of 579,400.
RNZ National programme manager David Allan attributes this growth to the success of several changes introduced at the public broadcaster over the last few years.
He says it wasn’t long ago that Radio New Zealand was seen as somewhat antiquated and catering only to an older dedicated audience.
However, through the introduction of established talent, such as John Campbell, Jesse Mulligan, Guyon Espiner and Susie Ferguson, the broadcaster has become one of the strongest voices in New Zealand news media.
This is certainly reflected in the growth for RNZ’s flagship show Morning Report, which increased its cumulative audience to 474,600 a week, up from 467,000.
Comparatively, Newstalk ZB’s morning slot (6am-9am) attracts an audience of 361,000 while RadioLive has 152,000 listeners.
While it’s difficult to compare breakfast hosts given that Newstalk ZB’s Mike Hosking and RadioLive’s Duncan Garner are on from 6am to 8.30am, it’s still fair to say RNZ commands the biggest audience among news stations between 6am and 9am.
The news wasn’t quite as good for RNZ Concert, which lost 1,300 listeners as it went from 173,700 listeners in the previous survey to 172,400 this time.
This is unlikely to cause alarm for the RNZ team, and it's certainly in line with trends showing listeners tuning into talk channels during what has been a particularly busy news period.
Although the election wasn’t included in this survey, which ran until 9 September, the political intrigue in the weeks—and even months—prior to the election almost certainly had an impact on the results for both RNZ and the commercial channels.
That said, Allan stops short of putting the strong audience numbers solely on the shoulders of political news stories, saying that with a rolling survey the content has to be compelling every day for it to maintain an audience.
The point he makes here is that these results are really the result of the journalists at RNZ grinding hard every day to tell stories that matter to New Zealanders.
It’s worth noting that RNZ has worked hard toward ensuring that at least some of its stories also find an audience among the younger denizens of Aotearoa. And in this regard, Allan gives a nod to the work done by RNZ head of digital Glen Scanlon, who has spearheaded projects such as the Wireless, which have attracted a significant younger audience to RNZ.
RNZ has also employed a more collaborative approach with commercial media over the last 18 months, striking content-sharing partnerships with the likes of Fairfax, NZME, MSN, TVNZ and Bauer and collaborating with TVNZ and Nicky Hager to cover the release of the Panama Papers.
Allan says these efforts are to ensure RNZ content reaches as broad an audience as possible so that more people become aware of the work the broadcaster is doing.
Not only is the approach spreading the content, but it also seems to be bringing readers back to the RNZ digital channels, with web traffic for September recorded at around two million users (up 18 percent on last year).
Beyond the strong radio and digital results, 2017 has also been a good year for the broadcaster in that it marked the end of a nine-year funding freeze, with government freeing up an extra $2.84 million per annum (added to the $32 million budget the broadcaster already gets).
On the more speculative side, there could also be further funding on its way, with the Labour Party pledging to invest around $30 million in RNZ toward the development of a public service TV channel.
Asked for his views on the potential of this happening, Allan wouldn’t be drawn into speculating on the likelihood of this coming to fruition.
“We’re not too concerned about what we might or might not have in the future. We’re just focused on what we have now and what we’re doing with it.”
- See the full RNZ radio results here.