Supporters of publicly-funded media in New Zealand are feeling fairly tormented at present, with the National Government's apparent 'nice to have' stance manifesting itself in a five year funding freeze for Radio New Zealand and the imminent switch-off of TVNZ7. But Nielsen's Year That Was report, which includes info on New Zealand media trends, has provided more proof of the importance—and popularity—of Radio New Zealand National by showing it was the top ranking radio station in New Zealand in 2011 with a market share of 11.1 percent.
The radio segment of the report provides a direct comparison between leading commercial radio networks and the public service radio broadcaster and shows that radio continues to be a very popular medium for New Zealanders, with 82 percent aged 15+ listening to live radio in an average week in 2011.
Radio New Zealand, which has a statutory requirement to report quantitative and qualitative audience research results against designated Charter obligations for both the National and Concert stations, ceased to be part of the Research International commercial radio survey in 1999 because the survey did not meet all its requirements as a national broadcaster. The commercial radio industry continues to gather information about Radio New Zealand but excludes that audience data from published survey information as it is of no interest to media buyers. And while both use radio diaries based on quarter hour time segments to collect listening behaviour for their audience measurement, Radio New Zealand's communications manager John Barr says there are quite a few differences (check out its approach to audience measurement here).
Commercial radio surveys are conducted twice a year, are quantitative (audience numbers only) and usually focus on the three main centres or 13 metropolitan and provincial centres, while Radio New Zealand’s All New Zealand Radio Survey runs for 40 weeks of the year between February and November, is nationwide, provides both quantitative and qualitative information and measures people 15+ rather than 10+.
In the TRB survey, Newstalk ZB claims top spot with an 11.7 percent share of all people, but data from the Nielsen Year that Was report supports earlier results for full year quarter three 2011, which ranked Radio New Zealand National number one with the biggest market share and the biggest audience size with 522,000 listeners.
Barr says Radio New Zealand has always been very strong in terms of audience numbers, and he thinks the latest figures are an endorsement of its role, but he says its expectations five years ago were that online listenership would increase and live audience would decrease. Last year, as mentioned in the TRB numbers, commercial radio station websites averaged over one million unique browsers and eight million page impressions monthly, and Barr says Radio New Zealand has also experienced a significant increase in online audiences, with the Radio New Zealand website consolidating its position as the most visited radio website in New Zealand.
Much like TV viewing, which is at its highest ever levels in New Zealand despite the increase in on-demand viewing, online traffic has continued to rise and the latest Annual Report showed growth from 8.5 million users in 2007 – 2008 to 13.8 million 2010 – 2011.
"Since the launch of the current version of the website there has been huge growth in website listening," he says. "Virtually all of our spoken word content and a growing volume of music and drama programmes are now available online for New Zealanders both here and abroad to access at any time of their choosing. The Radio New Zealand website currently contains almost 90,000 individual audio items, some dating back as far as five years. In total the online programme library now spans more than 12,000 hours of recorded content and is growing at the rate of about 25,000 items or 3,500 hours every year."
The Nielsen report also notes the impact of natural disasters in 2011 on listenership and the role radio broadcasting played in providing a vital source of information after the February earthquake in Christchurch. According to Nielsen, nearly a third of those surveyed about their radio listening habits in the days following the earthquake said they tuned in more than usual, including a number of people who don't usually use radio. Radio New Zealand National, as this country’s only designated Lifeline Utility radio broadcaster, gained 35 percent of those respondents who said they listened to the radio more following the February earthquake.
Barr admits it's pretty tough to operate with a "sinking lid" funding policy that isn't inflation proof, but according to the Herald, Radio New Zealand boss Richard Griffin said at a recent parliamentary committee it "does not need extra funding, despite having made cuts [including its in-the-field reporting] to meet budget constraints".
Added to that, Radio New Zealand's civil defence role isn't funded, Barr says. It is simply part of its obligations, and, as many of the major broadcasters discovered in 2011, disaster reporting is expensive. But even so, Barr says congratulations were offered to Radio New Zealand at the parliamentary committee for a job well done in this regard.
This perception is backed up by attitudinal research from Colmar Brunton to measure how its services are perceived by listeners and non-listeners that showed 88 percent agreeing it was important for New Zealand to have a public service radio broadcaster (4 percent disagreed) and 78 percent agreeing it provides a valuable service for New Zealanders (five percent disagreed).