Everyone wins in the radio survey (especially The Edge and Newstalk ZB)—UPDATED

In some ways, the radio industry becomes akin to a slightly less face-destroying version of Fight Club during the survey period. This is because no matter how much you might want to, no matter how relevant it might be, and no matter what reason you might have, the one rule of the radio survey is that industry members can’t talk about radio survey when it’s happening.

The latest survey period ran from 9 August to 19 September, meaning that the commercial networks, NZME (previously TRN) and MediaWorks Radio, have not been able to comment on any survey-related topics until now. 

The embargo of silence was lifted earlier today, with the release of the results, which were segmented into 13 regions: Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch, Waikato, Dunedin, Northland, Rotorua, Tauranga, Hawke’s Bay, Taranaki, Manawatu, Southland and Nelson. 

A total of 15,044 Kiwis aged 10 and older were surveyed across all the regions, with the biggest sample group located in Auckland, where a total of 3,054 people were questioned.

Overall, the results were encouraging for the radio industry, in the sense that 75.1 percent of all people aged 10 years and over (2,217,700), 73.0 percent of all people aged 18-34 years and 79 percent of all people aged 25-54 years engage with radio each week. These numbers served up a slight improvement on the earlier statistics results released in April, which tallied results of 74.5 percent, 70 percent and 78.5 percent in each of the respective categories.

However, when compared to the figures posted a year ago—76 percent of all people aged 10 years and over each week; 74 percent of all people aged 18-34 years; and 80 percent of all people aged 25-54 years—there was a slight dip.      

Nationally, the number one station in terms of weekly cumulative reach (that is the number of different listeners aged 10 and over) was the Edge, with 465,300 listeners. This was a particularly strong result for MediaWorks Radio, given that the station increased its cumulative reach by over 35,000 listeners from the 428,600 recorded the same time last year.


The Edge was followed by Newstalk ZB with 383,100 listeners (down from 396,700), ZM with 344,600 (down from 355,400), The Breeze with 325,300 (down from 299,700) and More FM with 294,000 (up from 266,800). 

The top four brands from last year’s survey remained unchanged, but there was a bit of shuffle at fifth place, as the Rock lost about 6,000 listeners (294,400 to 288,000) and dropped to sixth. Taking its place in the fifth position was another MediaWorks-owned station, More FM, which increased its listenership by over 25,000, rising from 266,800 to 294,000.

According to a release from TNS (the organisation that conducts the survey), the breakfast results (Monday-Friday 6am-9am) show Newstalk ZB with the highest share, with 18.4 percent of the commercial radio breakfast market followed by The Edge with a 7.8 percent share. Breeze is in third position this wave with a 6.8 percent share of the breakfast market and Mai FM is in fourth position at breakfast with a 5.7 percent share. Coast and The Rock share fifth position, each with a 5.4 percent share of breakfast commercial radio listening in Auckland.

The radio survey is generally a competitive affair, which pits the two commercial radio networks against each other and invariably results in the liberal use of superlatives.
The latest edition was no different. The releases from the respective networks read like pages torn out of a motivational speaker’s speech, drawing attention to all the positives that the result served up. 

MediaWorks used its release to draw attention to the fact that it overtook NZME in terms of overall station share in Auckland for the first time. 

“We have just come through one of the biggest six months of change the radio industry has witnessed,” says MediaWorks Radio’s chief executive Wendy Palmer. “It’s testament to the incredible talent and dedication of our staff that we have emerged bigger and stronger than ever before – and number one in Auckland for the first time.”

Palmer also drew attention to the Edge’s retention of the number one spot overall, and spoke about the success of MediaWorks’ other music brands.

“We literally have too many outstanding results to mention, but I want to pay tribute to The Edge who are again number one, and to our fantastic More FM teams throughout the country, who now have the biggest breakfast numbers of any music brand.”

The other big winner for MediaWorks was RadioLive, which increased its weekly listenership from 158,100 to 199,700.

The highlight on the NZME side was the continued dominance of Newstalk ZB, and the release singled out Mike Hosking for again having the number one breakfast show in New Zealand. 
Newstalk ZB’s Dallas Gurney points out that Newstalk ZB has attracted 7,000 more listeners than it had six months ago, and attributes this growth to the election campaign. 

“This was one of the most interesting election campaigns in living history,” he says.

He says that Hosking has played a particularly important role in the continued success of Newstalk ZB, and adds that the radio host’s performance across media channels provides a glimpse at how the industry is evolving.      

“It’s the future of radio,” he says. “We’re not just about a transmitter in the field. Someone like Hosking is on radio, he’s on TV and he’s also a regular columnist on the Herald.”

In keeping with the cross-channel theme, NZME has also released a survey-related video that features Mike Hosking giving a tongue-in-cheek speech on how the other radio stations could improve their rankings. In typical Hauraki fashion, Matt Heath and Jeremey Wells arrive late and immediately celebrate moving from 13th to 12th.

See the video here.

However, these celebrations might be slightly pre-emptive, given that all the promotional material for radio Hauraki will now have to be updated in order to reflect the change.

NZME’s managing director of radio Dean Buchanan was optimistic about the result and also gave a tongue-in-cheek estimation of what the future might hold, saying: “Based on the current performance, we foresee radio Hauraki overtaking Newstalk ZB by about 2026.”  

The Rise of digital

This latest radio survey comes at a massive transitional stage for the radio industry, with digital playing a much bigger role for both networks.

For this reason, both networks have drawn attention to their digital numbers as well. MediaWorks singled out the online statistics of The Edge’s website, which currently has an average of 845,765 unique monthly visits, 3,607,191 monthly page impressions and an monthly average of 336,617 VOD streams.

NZME’s ZM also had impressive stats increasing its average unique browsers by 109 percent and its page impressions by 129 percent between 1 April and 30 September (for the month of September, the ZM website had an average of 34,783 daily unique browsers and 8,908,093 page impressions, accoding to Nielsen’s Market Intelligence).

NZME’s online and mobile engagement has largely been driven by iHeartRadio, which according to Buchanan currently has 239,000 active subscribers.

“This is extremely significant, when you think that this time last year that number was zero,” says Buchanan.

In reporting on the radio survey, it has also become necessary to draw attention to the growth of the other online radio players, Pandora and Spotify, which today also form a major part of the modern radio landscape. 

While Spotify is relatively cagey in terms of releasing local figures to the media, Pandora recently celebrated reaching 250,000 subscribers.


The radio survey does not take the digital factor into account, which means that it does not provide overarching analysis of how the industry is doing across all channels. 


Over the last year, NZME has rebranded Classic Hits, ZM and introduced The Mix 98.2 to its offering. With these changes now incorporated, the survey presented an opportunity for the network to gauge the early performance of each of the brands. 

Buchanan was particularly impressed by what The Mix 98.2 has achieved in picking up 29,100 listeners within 12 weeks.

“As you know, the station has a huge team of one person: Mel Homer,” quips Buchanan. “And she has done a fantastic job in just a short space of time.”

Fordham also adds that the network was not disappointed by the fact that the listenership of the Polly and Grant show had dropped from 197,000 to 165,000, following its migration from ZM to the The Hits.

“We’ve retained 80 percent of our audience and the remaining 20 percent stayed with ZM,” says Fordham. “And we’ve also grown our younger audiences, which is exactly what we aimed to do.”

MediaWorks Radio’s major change over the course of the last year was the extension of the Edge brand onto television. Although the television channel falls beyond the remit of the radio survey, it’s worth noting that it attracted 1.2 million viewers in the month of August. Comparatively, only 842,300 viewers tuned in to the final month of C4. 

An antiquated methodology?

The way in which radio survey is conducted has not changed very much over the years, and is still based on a diary system, which involves door knocking.

And while this may seem anachronistic in a digital age typified by big data and granular insights, Leon Wratt, the newly appointed group content director for MediaWorks Radio, says there’s nothing more accurate.

“Overseas, they’ve tried various methods overseas, but none have been as good,” says Wratt. The margin of error could perhaps be reduced by increasing the sample size, but the cost would obviously have to figured in. That being said, the current system has been extremely consistent over the last 30 years, and I think it gives an accurate reflection of where the industry is.”    

Both NZME and MediaWorks have however invested in internal research methodologies that also take the digital elements into consideration. This is particularly important given that commercial radio in New Zealand is based on an ad-funded model. And given that audiences are migrating online, it has become important for the networks to illustrate that their brands continue to be relevant in the digital space.  

UPDATE: This article previously incorrectly stated that Havoc had beaten Jono & Ben in the afternoon drive segment in Auckland. The numbers for Auckland between 4pm and 7pm weekdays are as follows: in terms of share, Hauraki has 4.2 percent and The Rock has 5.3 percent; and in terms of cumulative reach, Hauraki has 27,200 listeners while The Rock has 38,500. This is also reflected on a national level, which shows The Rock having 145,300 listeners (and a 9.4 percent share), while Hauraki has 71,200 listeners (and a four percent share).

Note: TNS New Zealand does not give the media access to the detailed results (broken down by dayparts). According to a spokesperson for the research organisation, these are confidential to the subscribing stations. 

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