Earlier this week, MediaWorks group content director for radio Leon Wratt broke from convention to talk to The Spinoff about the radio survey before the release of the results. His motivation in doing so wasn’t to trumpet the success of any of the stations under his control, but rather to say that the industry should set its petty competitiveness aside to focus on telling a story on the collective success of radio as a medium.
Looking at the latest round of listenership results released by GFK, Wratt does have a point in that the medium continues to stand strong while other pillars in the media landscape crumble around it.
The survey shows that 3.36 million New Zealanders age 10 and older listen to commercial radio every week. This figure is up marginally on the previous survey, which had the reach of commercial radio at 3.35 million.
The upward trend was reflected across four of the six age demographics, with slight drops recorded only among the youngest and the oldest demographic groups.
- People 10-17: 75.0 percent listen each week (down 0.3 percent)
- People 18-34: 81.0 percent listen each week (up 0.5 percent)
- People 25-44: 84.9 percent listen each week (up 0.2 percent)
- People 25-54: 85.2 percent listen each week (up 0.4 percent)
- People 45-64: 83.7 percent listen each week (up 0.5 percent)
- People 55-74: 79.7 percent listen each week (down 0.1 percent)
Any media channel, new or old, would be happy with that level of engagement across the population. And Wratt is right that there is a job to be done in ensuring that advertisers don’t overlook radio as a dying medium. It’s far from it.
That said, a big part of what makes radio such a buoyant medium is the high level of competition between the networks and the personalities across the business. The constant presence of a competitor in the background pushes those in the industry to be better—and sometimes more outrageous—than those vying for share of ear time.
This inherent need to be better isn’t unique to radio. You see it in almost any creative art. And it’s a sentiment perhaps best captured by Woody Allen in the film Midnight in Paris when Ernest Hemingway refuses the read the protagonist’s novel by saying: “If it’s bad I’ll hate it because I hate bad writing and if it’s good I’ll be envious and hate it all the more.”
Those working in advertising also know this feeling all too well, and you can almost always hear the grating of teeth when anyone utters the compliment ‘I wish I’d made that’ in reference to another agency’s work.
The partisan reportage and press releases that emerge with every survey are little more than a byproduct of this ever-present sense of competition in the industry. However, Wratt believes there is a risk of this becoming little more than an annoyance to readers who can see through the PR fluff.
“Back in the day there were only two surveys and it was okay for us to go toe-to-toe every six months, but now we have four surveys and people will eventually get sick of it.”
It’s a sentiment that seems to have made its way across to the Newshub team, which today ran a story mentioning a few NZME stations alongside their MediaWorks competitors.
NZME also mentioned MediaWorks in its NZ Herald coverage on Spy but there was no olive branch extended in the story published in the business section of the publication.
While this more balanced reporting is only a small step, it does suggest the start of a more collaborative mood across the network divide.
NZME group director of entertainment Dean Buchanan says that regardless of which way you look at it, this was a good survey for the industry as a whole.
“While other mediums are struggling against digital, radio remains very healthy,” Buchanan says. “And you just have to look at what we’re doing in video to know that we’re also competing for eyeballs when it comes to streaming.”
Talking it up
Buchanan says the latest survey was particularly strong when it came to the talkback stations.
“It was definitely a good talk book,” he says.
Further to this point, Newstalk ZB consolidated its half million listeners, adding 8,000 to post a total of 510,000 in the latest survey.
Also on the way up was RadioLive, which grew its audience from 229,000 to 240,00 listeners.
While there have been gains on both sides, the key battle in this space remains largely unchanged, with Newstalk ZB’s Mike Hosking remaining over 200,000 listeners ahead of RadioLive’s AM Show.
Despite the large gap between the two shows, MediaWorks will take a positive in the fact that the AM Show grew by 10,000 listeners while Hosking’s morning slot only attracted 5,000 new listeners.
The strong performance among the talkback channels is largely attributable to what has been the most intriguing election in recent memory.
The interest in election commentary also spilled into the digital channels, with both NZME and Newshub commanding enormous audiences through their online channels.
NZME managing editor Shayne Currie points to the election day coverage, which saw led to NZ Herald and Newstalk ZB streams being viewed 478,000 times across the available channels.
Alongside the more serious news coverage, the NZME entertainment brands also weighed in on the election giving alternative analyses of proceedings.
The other major trend in the latest survey provides a strong hint of changing music tastes among listeners.
Two of the standout performers in the recent rundown were Mai FM and Flava, with the former adding a mammoth 51,000 listeners and the latter 19,000. This marks a continuation of the recent surveys, which have been particularly kind to the urban stations.
Buchanan puts this down to shifting music cycles, saying that hip-hop and R‘nB are particularly popular at the moment.
Wratt concurs with this, pointing to recent sales of concert tickets as further evidence of what New Zealanders prefer to listen to these days.
He compares the rapid sellout of Drake concert tickets to the upcoming Katy Perry tour, which is still struggling to fill Spark Arena on two nights.
As a corollary of this shift, the pop music brands have taken a bit of hit, with both The Edge and ZM suffering dips in station share (the percentage of the audience listening during a particular time period).