Radio New Zealand up year-on-year despite summer season drops

Radio New Zealand has achieved year-on-year growth in the last GfK results for 2018 – despite the numbers dropping considerably from previous results this year. StopPress talked with RNZ head of radio and music David Allan about the year that was, and what’s to come in 2019.

Last week’s GfK commercial radio survey showed that the total radio listening numbers are down slightly from the previous quarter, to 3.56 million (10+), down from 3.66 million earlier in the year.

The slight downward trend is reflected in the latest numbers showing 679,500 New Zealanders (10+) are tuning into Radio New Zealand programming each week, down from 705,000 in the previous survey but 34,300 more than the same time last year.

Radio New Zealand head of radio and music David Allan says the year-on-year result demonstrates what a successful year RNZ has had.

“The latest survey round shows a fairly soft radio market with fewer people listening to the radio. The last quarter was a reasonably soft news cycle, but we’re really happy – it’s a really good performance.”

Radio New Zealand has had a period of strong growth in 2018, similar to the growth seen in the first three surveys of 2017.

In the third radio survey last year, RNZ National was on the verge of being the number one station in the country with 625,500 listeners but by the final survey of the year it had dropped down to just 586,700.

They’ve followed a similar trend this year – with solid growth in the first three surveys and losses in the last survey of the year, albeit in a better position overall with year-on-year growth. The September 2018 survey saw RNZ National finally reach the top station in the country, stepping ahead of The Edge’s 624,400 weekly cumulative reach to 633,500. But Allan says the end of year dip is to be expected.

“The two surveys around the summer break don’t suit the talk station,” he says.

RNZ National now has a market share of 12.1 percent among all radio listening in New Zealand with a cumulative audience of 603,800, up 16,300 from the same time last year.  RNZ Concert also had year-on-year increase, with a total audience weekly reach of 173,000 (10+), up 27,200 from the same survey last year.

It is worth noting that the survey four 2017 results for both stations were down from the third survey in 2017: 38,000 and 26,600 respectively. Both results are drops from the growth found earlier in 2018. RNZ National, in particular, saw a massive growth and drop in 2018 with the final result of the year showing a 29,700 decrease in weekly listeners.

Total audience numbers for the 6am-9am weekdays’ slot average at 2.8 million people (10+) each week. RNZ National’s breakfast offering Morning Report has reached 457,800 different people (10+), which is a 15.4 percent market share of the total radio listening audience for the time slot.

Allan says the morning result reflects the station’s strong performance throughout the last year. RNZ will build on the success next year by entering the 5am time slot for the first time, with a news and current affairs show set to be on-air in March 2019.

“We don’t win the 5am hour, and we’ve wanted to introduce programming at that time for a long time. We’ve always believed in doing it properly with the right resources and we’re there now,” Allan says.

“The benefit of setting the news agenda at 5am as opposed to 6am is that it will give Morning Report a far healthier lead in. Work-lifestyle habits are changing, particularly in Wellington and Auckland, with people getting up earlier, we’ve done research on this and we’re in a position to go ahead and create a fairly innovative hour.”

The host of the new show is set to be announced before Christmas. Traditionally Newstalk ZB has been the winner of the 5am hour, with its Early Edition with Kate Hawkesby programme setting the news agenda for the day ahead of The Mike Hosking Breakfast show at 6am.

“We know 5 am shows are not new, it’s a fairly standard structure for a talk station, but we hope to really be the point of difference in the marketplace,” Allan says.

The new early morning programme isn’t the only new item on RNZ’s long-term plan, with more changes for RNZ National set to be announced on December 12.

“It’ll be a bit of a refreshment, and is part of our long-term radio plan which is based on having strong hosts for all programmes and engaging audiences.”

Radio New Zealand has also achieved strong results across digital channels. More than 608,000 users accessed the RNZ website during a typical week, and more than 203,000 video streams took place on RNZ platforms. ​

RNZ also continues to add to its diversified content by partnering up with other organisations to create new outputs, such as podcasts.

Overall, Allan says the results are promising ahead of all the changes that will come in the new year.

“I believe we’re on track even though we’ve shed some listeners. We’ve got a stable line-up of hosts that engage with the audience and there’s social and digital growth off the back of that.

“The content is getting better and better and now that we are researching our audience we know what sort of content they want and we are able to actually reach them successfully without flying blind.”

The next non-commercial radio survey will be in May 2019.

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Caitlin Salter is a freelance writer who contributes to various publications at ICG Media.

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