Radio survey results: Newstalk ZB still strong, Mai FM takes big leap and MediaWorks hits a milestone as all stations grow

Yesterday, a picture was widely circulated showing Hilary Barry carrying a box of Moët into the MediaWorks office. And it’s more than likely that other employees at the media company will be taking a few more laps to the local Liquorland today, because nothing provides a better reason for heavy drinking than the release of the radio results.

This will also be the case for NZME, which will similarly be cracking open a few chilled beverages this evening.     

In the varied radio market, which is made up of an assortment of stations, both commercial networks always find a few numbers to celebrate during survey time.

And while the latest survey was compiled by a new provider (GFK rather than TNS), the PR machines of both commercial networks were again in full force, picking out the results that told the best stories for their radio brands. This bias was also reflected in the radio survey reports published on the news sites—Newshub and NZ Herald—owned by the respective companies (you don’t have to be objective when you’re reporting about yourself, right?)   

Partisan cherry-picking set aside, the overall story for the radio market was relatively good.

Of the 3.2 million people who live in the major markets survey area, 77.4 percent tuned into a commercial station every week. This is not as high as it was in the early 2000s, but the growing Kiwi population—fuelled largely by immigration—saw 240,000 new listeners tune in.

This injection of listeners has been distributed across the commercial stations, meaning that there have been lifts in terms of overall listenership for all radio brands included in the survey.

This growth saw MediaWorks pass the milestone of one million listeners across all its brands during breakfast for the first time ever. As is to be expected, MediaWorks group content director Leon Wratt is excited about the results, but he is also pragmatic in explaining why numbers were up across the board.  

“We have new census data,” he says. “There’s been a big population lift in Auckland and Christchurch. And when you have a rising tide, all the ships lift with it.”

MediaWorks again took the opportunity to point out the gap between its overall audience and that of its competitor through a graph in the key 25-54 demographic.

While the data provider has changed, both Wratt and NZME group director of entertainment Dean Buchanan agree that the new data can be compared to the previous figures (a uniform lift in audiences is, however, unusual for radio surveys). 

Buchanan says GFK has been able to roll the previous results into the current data, which means that they can be compared.

“The only difference,” Buchanan says, “is that the new survey runs over a longer period of time and includes a higher percentage of online diaries.”

When compared to the figures from the T2 radio survey, the biggest winners in terms of overall audience share were Mai Fm (up by 54,900 listeners), The Edge (45,000), Coast (41,900), Breeze (40,200), The Sound (42,500) and George (34,500).

As has been the case for a decade now, The Edge was again the biggest radio station in New Zealand by a long shot with 488,000 listeners tuning in every week. This was followed by the Newstalk ZB, More FM, The Breeze and ZM.

All brands enjoyed a lift in share, except for the The Rock, which went from a 9.1 percent station share in 2015 to 8.3 percent in the latest survey and dropped from second to fourth on the national table.

In keeping with previous radio trends, Newstalk ZB again had the highest station share level with 11.8 percent (up from 11.4 percent) for the T2 survey from last year.

“It’s sometimes easy to overlook Newstalk ZB because it’s such a consistent performer,” Buchanan says. “It’s true that it has been the top station since 2003, but it has come under extreme pressure over the last year.”

Some of this pressure was undoubtedly introduced by the arrival of Paul Henry in the morning slot.

And the show has certainly gained momentum, growing by 9.5 percent in the major market audience. This was also the case regionally, with the show increasing the Auckland breakfast audience by 5.4 percent and the Christchurch breakfast audience by a mammoth 34 percent.

However, it’s worth noting that this growth comes off a relatively small base and the current Radio Live numbers are still below those tallied in 2014. 

Looking at the overall Radio Live figures, the brand currently sits between niche stations Mai Fm and Hauraki, well behind Newstalk ZB.

In fact, the gap between the two brands in terms of overall audience has increased from 189,600 in the T2 survey to 202,000 in the latest results (and the gap is also evident when Mike Hosking and Henry are pitted against each other during breakfast).

Despite the disparity between Radio Live and Newstalk ZB, Wratt says he is very proud of what the team has achieved thus far and he believes that the brand will only continue growing.

This might prove challenging given the recent resignation of Hilary Barry, who is largely credited as the perfect foil to Henry’s abrasiveness.

However, there have been reports suggesting that Barry could potentially be persuaded to stay now that MediaWorks chief executive Mark Weldon has left the building. Asked whether there was any truth to this, Wratt said that he didn’t know because he wasn’t responsible for the Talkback side of radio.

But he did add: “It wouldn’t be the first time someone in radio has resigned and then later decided to stay.”

MediaWorks will certainly hope that Barry does decide to add a few more years to her 23-year tenure.

Demographic breakdown

In addition to the overall national data, The Radio Bureau also provided a series of charts and graphs showing a breakdown of the results across the key demographic groups, including 18-34, 25-54, household shoppers with kids.

Across these categories, there was a generally positive story, with only a few brands dropping across some categories. The one category that radio brands did seem to struggle with was household shoppers with children, in which nine brands lost station share numbers and seven brands lost audience numbers.

There will certainly be a few concerns at The Rock, in that the station lost share across all key demographic groups (although this was marginal in most instances).

Online battle

Both MediaWorks and NZME have successfully grown their online audiences over the past year, something largely attributable to the fact that Kiwi radio talent has successfully managed to relay their skills from the airwaves to the internet.

This is particularly true of the entertainment brands, with Mai, ZM, the Edge, Hauraki and The Rock all garnering huge online and social audiences.

Wratt points to Jono and Ben as one of the best examples of this, saying that they have a presence across every channel. 

In terms of overall audience numbers, Buchanan says that NZME has a slight edge over MediaWorks at the moment. 

““On average each month we have 540,000 people visiting our radio station websites, 56,000 more than MediaWorks,” he says. 

NZME’s online play is also further consolidated by iHeartRadio, which now has 457,000 registered users. 

“People may think of radio in the traditional sense but more and more people are listening to their favourite NZME talent on their phones and tablets via the iHeartRadio app,” Buchanan says. “We’ve seen a massive 151 percent growth in people streaming iHeartRadio over the same period as last year. Of these 85 percent listened via a mobile device. It’s constantly growing and is a huge part of the NZME offering.”

The online strength of the radio brands at both commercial networks also provides a valuable bargaining chip when it comes to working with advertisers. One need only look at the ‘Jono V Ben’ campaign for Frucor to see how far a brand’s message can be carried by the right radio talent. 

And as the lines between channels continue to blur, the flexibility of these radio stars will only become more important.   

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