Radio results: five winners, four losers and three core themes from the final survey of the year

On a recent lunch walk to St Luke’s mall, my attention was pulled away from my mobile phone by the sound of the notable earworm that is the St Pierre’s Sushi jingle.

“St Pierre’s you’re gonna love our sushi,” came the tune from a group of school kids who were clearly also on a mission for food.

While only anecdotal, it was an observation that hinted at the continued relevance of radio. These kids didn’t hear that jingle on Facebook, YouTube or any digital channel for that matter. It wormed its way into their ears via the medium where the St Pierre’s jingle can be heard almost every day: radio.

This anecdote was supported again by the radio results, which showed that commercial radio reaches 80 percent of the New Zealand population (that figure rises to 86 percent when RNZ’s non-commercial stations are included).

Five Winners

1. Mai FM

Our pick for radio brand of the year in the annual Hot List has had a cracker of a year. Its overall audience may have dipped by 11,000 from the previous survey, but the station has enjoyed enormous growth over the last year.

It’s gone from 387,000 listeners in the first GFK survey to 441,000 in the latest rundown.

It is now the third biggest station in the country for 18- to 34-year-olds (behind The Edge and ZM) in cumulative reach and the second biggest in station share (behind The Rock).

At a time when the music cycle has a strong urban leaning, Mai FM has emerged as the dominant voice in this space, extending its lead over its competitor and making a strong case that the future of pop will likely include a fair share of hip-hop and R&B beats.  

MediaWorks content director Leon Wratt says Mai FM was one of his picks of the year and that he expects the station to continue its strong performance into 2018.      

2. Newstalk ZB

The news segment has been particularly competitive over the last year, with an intense cycle that included a natural disaster, a Lions tour and an election. But as NZME managing editor Shayne Currie says, news doesn’t necessarily equate to ratings.

While its competitor has struggled, Newstalk ZB has increased its audience from 495,000 in survey one to 507,000 in the latest survey (the station did, however, dip by 3,600 from survey three).

This growth was also reflected in station share, with Newstalk ZB now commanding a 10.7 percent share of overall listening, up from 10 percent in survey one (the station grew by 0.2 percent from the previous year).

Mike Hosking has also solidified his position as the number one breakfast host in commercial radio, with his show attracting the biggest audience of all stations (the show grew from 351,000 to 362,000 listeners between survey one and four). Comparatively, the RadioLive breakfast show has slipped from 149,000 listeners in survey one to 136,000 in the latest rundown.

That said, there are some personnel changes on the horizon and the pressure will be one to see if the new voices resonate as strongly with audiences as those they have replaced.

3. The Breeze

When announcing the second round of survey results from GFK, we led with an image of Lionel Richie giving a cheesy grin and pointing out to his fans. That toothy snapshot seems, even more, fitting now when looking at the performance of the station over the course of the year.

Despite a drop-off in survey three, The Breeze bounced back in survey four, increasing its audience by 23,000 listeners to 529,000 (up from 506,000 in survey one).

Wratt says The Breeze has solidified its position as the leading music station in share and is second only to The Edge in total listeners nationwide.  

New Zealand’s love for the sweet tunes of Richie sometimes seems, well, a little endless.

4. ZM

NZME radio managing director Dean Buchanan described ZM as “an overnight success three years in the making”. He says the upward trajectory of the station is the product of a strategic shift that started with the appointment of core talent, such as Fletch, Vaughan and Megan in the morning and Jase and PJ in the afternoon.

The station has, over the course of the year, risen from 478,000 listeners in the first GFK survey to 508,000 in this survey.

ZM’s strength this year is perhaps best indicated in its performance against its main competitor, The Edge.

When GFK’s first survey was released, the gap between the pair was 184,000 listeners. The fourth survey now shows that gap, having narrowed by almost 80,000 to 105,000 listeners.

Nothing is guaranteed in radio, however, and with Jase and PJ heading to Australia, NZME will possibly have to find solid replacements able to compete with the formidable trio of Jono, Ben and Sharyn at The Edge (Update: Buchanan says that there are currently no plans to replace the pair in 2018 and that they will continue to produce a show specifically for the local market). 

While Jase and PJ announced they’ll be hosting the breakfast show at KIIS in Australia as well as the drive show at ZM, some trade publications have suggested it may be difficult to sustain the workload this requires. 

5. The radio industry

Over three million New Zealanders tune in to commercial radio for an average of 17 hours and 11 minutes per week. This tells the story of a healthy media channel that continues to demand the attention of a massive audience.

It’s a medium that reaches 86 percent of grocery shoppers, 84 percent of 25- to 54-year-olds, 81 percent of 18- to 39-year-olds and 74 percent of 10- to 17-year-olds.

It seems the technology assassins still have some work to do in achieving their 100-year objective of killing the radio star. Chances are we’ll still have the odd jingle being hummed or sung on the street for some time.            

Four Losers

1. NZME’s Overall Listenership

The latest results saw overall listenership dip slightly from the previous two surveys. According to the latest figures from GFK, radio now reaches 3.32 million people, which is down 37,000 listeners from the previous result.

NZME and its commercial partners account for a significant portion of this slide, in that these stations lost a cumulative 30,000 listeners to post a total reach of two million listeners.

MediaWorks went the other way, increasing its overall listenership by 9,000 to a total audience of 2.3 million.  

Buchanan says there are two stories at play in the latest results.

“I always hate going down, but you need look at the wider trends,” Buchanan says.  

While NZME’s total audience did decline from the third round of results, he says the overall audience of the network has grown over the course of the year from 1.95 million listeners during the first GFK survey. Viewed over all four surveys, Buchanan argues that NZME has seen decent growth.

There is something to be said for momentum, however, and after three strong surveys with solid growth, the NZME team will be a little annoyed about letting it slip right at the end.  

2. RadioLive and Radio Sport

The two stations lost a cumulative audience of 69,000 listeners from the previous survey (MediaWorks’ RadioLive was down 28,000 while NZME’s Radio Sport dropped by 41,000). Given that this rolling survey coincided with the New Zealand election and the Lions tour, there will be a few questions at MediaWorks and NZME about what it will take to turn these stations around.

RadioLive and Radio Sport also lost ground in the highly competitive breakfast and drive slots. RadioLive lost 17,000 listeners in breakfast and 19,000 in drive, while Radio Sport lost 13,000 in the morning and 17,000 in the afternoon.

The downward trend is also apparent when viewed across the whole year, with RadioLive dropping from 230,000 in survey one to 213,000 in the latest survey and Radio Sport going from 185,000 to 161,000.

As far as the overall numbers are concerned, the audience doesn’t seem to have shifted to Newstalk ZB, which suggests the audience has either shifted to an entertainment brand or the non-commercial RNZ National.

3. The Edge

The biggest commercial station in the country has seen both its cumulative audience and share slide across the four surveys this year. The station’s overall listenership has dropped from 662,000 listeners in GFK’s first survey of the year to 613,000 in the latest round. And while the station remains at the top among its commercial competitors, it will likely lose its position as the number one radio station in the country when the non-commercial results are released next week (unless, of course, RNZ National has a shocker).

Wratt concedes the station has had a “disappointing” year and says there will be a few changes in 2018.

One change has already manifested in the decision of breakfast host Jay-Jay Havey to leave the show to further her career elsewhere within the MediaWorks framework. She has been replaced by Megan Annear, who will now be required to play a significant role in maintaining the show’s audience.   

Despite the slip in The Edge’s performance, Wratt sees a positive in the fact that MediaWorks’ overall audience has lifted from the first survey of the year, saying that it suggests the network isn’t leaking its audience to its competitor (the overall MediaWorks audience lifted from 2.26 million to 2.32 million between the first and fourth surveys).

This might be true, but the gap between The Edge and its main competitor ZM is closing in the key 18-39 and 25-54 demographics. The Edge has maintained a strong lead over its NZME-owned competitor, but the distance between the pair isn’t quite what it once was.

Beyond ratings, the pop stations are vital from a commercial perspective in that they’re the strongest in the key demographics. And since the flow of audience determines where the money goes, both MediaWorks and NZME will want to keep these stations as popular as possible.      

4. Coast

While Coast remains the number one music station for all people over 40, the station didn’t have the best year. Overall listenership decreased from 405,000 listeners in the first survey to 379,000 in the latest round of results.

The drops in audience were particularly pronounced in the older audience segments, which are the target demographic for the station. The station slipped from 172,000 to 141,000 among 45- to 64-year-olds and from 203,000 to 191,000 among 55- to 74-year-olds.

Despite this decline, Buchanan says NZME continues to invest in the station and will be launching a local show, set to be hosted by Brian Kelly, in Tauranga and the Coromandel.

It’s also worth noting, that the station still has a strong base of core listeners and remains the fifth strongest brand in the country in terms of station share.       

Three themes

1. Improved self-reporting

Media owners have long been criticised for delivering partisan reports that trumpet their own successes and ignore those of their competitors.

The last two surveys have, however, seen a shift in this regard, with both NZME and MediaWorks publishing more balanced reports through their news channels.

Newshub’s report of the results in the latest round of results was particularly transparent, with Wratt speaking openly about the disappointment of The Edge.

Given the influence of these news companies, this has to be seen as a positive step.

2. Urban channels continue to grow

Music tastes are not set in stone. For confirmation, just ask an 80s glam rock band looking to book a venue these days. In 2017, we’ve seen a clear rise in popularity of urban music. Artists such Drake, Bruno Mars, Kendrick Lamar, Beyonce and Frank Ocean have played a major role in defining pop culture over the last year. What was once urban or hip-hop has become mainstream, and this is certainly a contributing factor in the decline of a hugely popular station, such as The Edge.

The urban stations simply have the playlists that the listeners want, and they’re expressing this by twisting the dial.  

3. Changes afoot

Radio will look quite different in 2018, with a number of key personnel changes set to take effect across both networks.

Kate Hawkesby will be taking over from Rachel Smalley on Newstalk ZB, Jase and PJ will likely be replaced on ZM and, in addition to the new-look breakfast show, The Edge will be without Sharyn Casey as she heads off for maternity leave for six months (Jono and Ben will host the drive show without her).

Further down the line, Simon Barnett will be leaving More FM to take on a new role at Newstalk ZB, while Kerre McIvor will be replacing the retiring Leighton Smith. The long notice periods of Barnett and Smith have been ridiculed in the media, but Buchanan says it’s important to give the audience time to become accustomed to the changes.

Currie agrees, saying that Smith’s listeners can expect to hear a bit more of McIvor over the next few months as she steps in for the veteran from time to time.

The nation’s biggest radio brands might have the same names in 2018, but the hosts slogging it out for ratings (and revenue) will be different in many instances.

See the full results at the GFK website

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