Radio Results S3: Mai FM and Newstalk ZB dominate in a strong urban and talk book

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.

Urban tastes

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).

Neither Buchanan nor Wratt are concerned about this shift at this stage, on account of the continued strength of both ZM and Edge.

Buchanan points out that ZM broke the half million listener milestone for the first time as it grew its overall audience by 14,600 listeners.

On the other side, Wratt is also quick to remind StopPress that 626,000 listeners still make The Edge the biggest commercial station in the country by a margin of almost 100,000 listeners (More FM is second with 527,000 listeners).  




Scale and segmentation     

The overall listener numbers tell a story of a channel that still commands scale – something of a rarity in the modern media landscape. But this is only part of the reason why advertisers have not declined their spend on the channel.

In addition to reaching 80 percent of the population across all channels, each of the individual brands offer targeting opportunities across different demographics.

Advertisers looking to key demographic groups can choose to concentrate their advertising spend in the stations strongest in the target group. And given that radio brands continue to pull in young audiences, this extends to the demographic groups that remain difficult to reach in other channels.

Among 18- to 34-year-olds, for instance, The Edge, ZM, Mai FM, The Rock and More FM reign supreme. The biggest audience jump in this demographic came from Mai FM, which increased its listenership by 26,000 listeners. Meanwhile, the Edge suffered the biggest drop, losing 12,000 listeners. Should these trends continue, then Mai FM will be well on its way toward becoming the biggest station among younger listeners.

The Edge is also the biggest station in the 25-54 demographic, followed by ZM, More FM, The Rock and Breeze. While Mai FM isn’t yet in the top five, the station is quickly gaining on those ahead of it, pulling in an additional 30,000 listeners in this demographic. Also putting in strong performances were ZM (up 18,000) and The Hits (up 16,000). The biggest drop in this demographic group again belonged to The Edge, which slipped by 12,300 listeners.

Although there will always be ups and downs for the individual stations, both networks will be pleased to see that the overall listening increased by 5,000 listeners among 18- to 34-year-olds for a total reach of 956,000 and by 8,000 among 25 to 54-year-olds for a total reach of 1.6 million.                 


NZME head of agency Matt Headland says these figures become even stronger when radio is bundled with digital.

Talent across the all the major radio brands have developed large social audiences that follow their every tweet, post and ridiculous video.

In explaining the potential of this opportunity, Headland says there are few personalities as adept at working with brands across channels than Matt Heath and Jeremy Wells from Hauraki. Their role in forming the Alternative Commentary Collective has become an annual event, which reappears during every cricket season.    

MediaWorks could make a similar argument for Jono Pryor and Ben Boyce, who have extended their brand of humour across available channels consistently over the last few years.

There is perhaps an argument to be made that the best modern radio talent is one part entertainer and one part creative director, conceptualising ideas that not only engage the audience but also offer commercial ins for brand partners looking to reach a certain demographic. The degree of difficulty is always greater when content is required to be both interesting and commercially viable—and this is the space where the best talent in the market excels.  

Network shuffle

On the topic of talent, there have been a number of interesting shifts over the last 12 months.

First up, Polly Gillespie and Grant Kereama have crossed the floor from NZME to MediaWorks and taken up a new role at More FM in Wellington.

Wratt says the appointment of the pair has paid off quickly, with the station’s share in the capital lifting by 3.1 percent in the timeslot occupied by the pair. However, some of this would’ve come at the expense of The Edge, which slipped by 3.3 percent. Interestingly, while station share has gone up substantially, the cumulative audience at More FM has only lifted by 2,000 listeners.

Another big move that hasn’t quite happened yet is that of Simon Barnett, who announced back in July that he would be joining Newstalk ZB in early 2019. In addition to being the longest notice period in history, the appointment of Barnett is a significant coup for NZME (which is perhaps why the press release went out so early).

Not as positive for NZME is the impending departure of Jase Hawkins and PJ Harding, who announced they would be leaving the station at the end of the year to take on a new role in Australia.

Buchanan was tight-lipped on who would be stepping into the drive-time slot but added that an announcement would be made in the coming weeks.

The only question that remains is whether the talent comes from abroad or if NZME has coaxed some of the MediaWorks crew to cross the floor. Whatever happens, there will be a few new battles emerging across the radio landscape in the coming years. And no matter how collaborative the networks might become, you can rest assured that they’ll still take great pleasure in beating their competitors when the ratings are announced.

See the full results from GFK here.      

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