Radio survey 2017 part two: The Breeze serenades to the top, Newstalk ZB still owns talkback

When the previous radio survey results were released, The Spinoff’s Duncan Greive described radio as “a kind of godless media Ibiza where every citizen is oily and suspiciously tanned and pulling a funny face despite being 108 years old.”

Now, with the latest round of results, the party shows no indication of slowing down to the drunk sway at the end of the night. On the contrary, more audiophiles are finding themselves stumbling onto the dance floor.

According to GFK’s latest round of results (which came around surprisingly fast after the previous survey), the overall number of New Zealanders listening to the radio on a weekly basis increased by 48,000 from the previous survey to a post an accumulative figure of 3.35 million.

This number is spread across demographic segments, with the highest concentration falling into the key 25- to the 54-year-old demographic segment.                     

  • People 10-17: 75.3 percent listen each week
  • People 18-34: 80.5 percent listen each week
  • People 25-44: 84.7 percent listen each week
  • People 25-54: 84.8 percent listen each week
  • People 45-64: 83.2 percent listen each week
  • People 55-74: 79.8 percent listen each week
  • Grocery Buyers: 83.1 percent listen each week

The percentage of 10- to 17-year-olds listening to broadcast radio might be lower, but, with 75 percent still listening on a weekly basis, the radio industry remains in an enviable position among media channels.

Another section that makes for interesting reading concerns how listeners are consuming radio media these days.

Despite the proliferation of digital options, the vast majority of radio listening is still done via AM/FM broadcasts, with 77 percent of respondents aged from 10 to 39 saying this was how they engaged with the channel.

Comparatively, only 21 percent of respondents said they listened to the radio via the internet.

What this reiterates is that AM/FM broadcasts remain by far the dominant medium by which New Zealanders engage with radio brands.

The enormous emphasis on the disruptive impact of digital listening apps—such as Spotify and iHeartRadio—has, at least to some degree, led to industry commentators overlooking the continued appeal of terrestrial radio.  

However, the emergence of thinkers such Mark Ritson and Peter Field has helped shift the debate to focus on where people actually are rather than where they might be in the future.  

NZME chief commercial officer Laura Maxwell says radio went through a phase of appearing somewhat “unsexy” for a while, but it has always had an immediate connection with New Zealand audiences.

This also comes shortly off the back of Pandora’s failure in the Australasian market, with the business shutting its local offices on account of not being able to establish a sustainable business.

“People still want more than a playlist and radio talent gives that to them,” Maxwell says.

A major encumbrance for Pandora and other digital streaming platforms in breaking the continued strength of radio is that growth in the number of connected cars on the road has been relatively slow. This is particularly true among younger drivers, who often purchase older, more affordable vehicles. 

As the traffic can attest, New Zealanders continue to spend a substantial amount of time in their cars. And as long as broadcast radio remains the more convenient option, the channel will continue to have the scale that sees it reaching over 3 million New Zealanders every week.

As TRB chief executive Peter Richardson recently told NZ Marketing, “the numbers on Spotify and Pandora are not in the same ballpark as radio listenership – and once subscribers are taken out, the numbers that are hearing ads are very low.”

Richardson went on to say that while digital services offer targeting capabilities, the local radio networks offer comparable services via iHeartRadio (NZME) and Rova (MediaWorks).

The network gap narrows

The overall industry might be healthy, but this has done little to stifle the competition between the two major commercial networks.

NZME again took the opportunity to trumpet the fact that it had again narrowed the gap separating its overall audience from that of MediaWorks.

NZME and its partner brands now have a cumulative audience of over 2 million listeners, up from the 1.95 million listeners that previously tuned in.

NZME group entertainment director Dean Buchanan says the last two surveys show that momentum has swung to NZME.

“In radio, momentum is the most difficult thing to get on your side, but it’s also the easiest thing to lose,” he says.

Buchanan attributes the success at the network to the talent introduced over the last few years.       

He points to Fletch, Vaughan and Megan (on ZM), Toni Street, Sarah Gandy and Sam Wallace (on the Hits), Mel Homer (also on the Mix) and more recently Simon Barnett, who, after the longest employment notice period ever, will join Newstalk ZB in 2019.

Buchanan says the growth across the NZME portfolio shows that the strategy steadily put into place in recent years is starting to deliver results.

Asked for his thoughts about the narrowing gap, MediaWorks group content director Leon Wratt says he isn’t concerned about the shift.

Wratt says NZME includes its partner brands in its overall audience number, which is something MediaWorks doesn’t do.

“We have a partnership with Tarana, for instance, but we don’t add that into our overall audience,” Wratt says.

The Breeze overtakes The Edge

Wratt also adds that MediaWorks continues to have four of the top five music stations in The Edge, The Breeze, The Rock and More FM. 

One of the most interesting shifts among those stations was The Breeze overtaking the others to become the entertainment station with the highest overall share of time spent listening.

The Breeze now has an 8.2 percent share compared to 7.9 percent for The Rock and 7.5 percent for The Edge and Coast.

“The team at the Breeze has Lionel Richie playing and they’ve taken the chardonnay out,” says Wratt of the station, which has never held the number one slot.   

The Edge remains the biggest commercial station in the country with 647,000 listeners, although this is down 15,000 listeners from the previous survey.

Despite retaining its commanding lead at the top, The Edge did suffer the biggest drop in time spent listening, slipping 0.4 percent from the previous survey.

On the other side of the spectrum, The Edge’s main competitor, ZM, enjoyed a spike in both share and overall listenership, the former going up by 0.4 percent and latter rising by 8,700.

NZME’s Maxwell says that at least part of this performance can be attributed to ZM’s ‘Secret Sound’ promotion, which captured the nation’s attention over the course of the survey period.

Newstalk ZB still a news powerhouse

The Breeze might be the number one station on the entertainment side, but it still has some way to go to catch up to Newstalk ZB, which commands a station share of 10.3 percent (up 0.3 percent from the previous survey).

Overall, Newstalk ZB commands a weekly audience of 502,000 listeners—up 7,000 from the previous survey.

This puts the station well ahead of its main competitor, Radio Live, which remained flat at 228,000 listeners.

As has been the case over the last few surveys, the big battle in talkback was contested between Mike Hosking and Duncan Garner.

While Garner got one over Hosking to claim the Best Talk Presenter gong at the 2017 New Zealand Radio Awards, the ratings battle went the opposite way.

Hosking enjoyed an increase of 10,000 listeners, while Garner slipped by 6,700.   

“If I were to choose between the award and these ratings, I’d go for the ratings every time,” NZME managing editor Shayne Currie says.

Currie also adds that the performance of ZB sets up a strong base in the lead up to the election.

Currie also gave a nod to the work of the team at Radio Sport, which had the biggest lift in listenership (21,000 from the previous survey) of all the channels surveyed.

Wratt says some of this could be attributed to the hype of major sporting events, such as the America’s Cup and the Lions Tour, that have dominated local media. However, Currie counters this, pointing out that the America’s Cup final happened outside the survey period. 

Sport may have been the major talking point over the last few weeks, but that will shift towards the political as we hurtle toward the election. Talkback stations will be expecting this to bring a few ratings spikes along the way.  

All about the segments        

Part of the reason why everyone can be declared a winner is that radio audiences tend to be very segmented and targeted to specific groups.  

Interestingly, The Breeze recorded the biggest lift in overall listenership among 18- to 34-year-olds (up 15,00 from the previous survey), which indicates the young’uns also enjoy a bit of Lionel Richie with a chardonnay on the side.

On the flip side, the biggest dip was suffered by The Edge, which lost 11,000 listeners.

The biggest growth in share in this category went to the Breeze, which went up by 1.4 percent, while Hauraki suffered the biggest dip at 1.3 percent.

The nostalgia also appears to be strong in the important 25-54 category, where the Breeze again enjoyed some decent gains as its overall audience went up by 12,000. This was second only to Flava’s growth of 16,000.

The most significant drop in this category went to George FM, which slipped by 13,000 listeners. Station share followed this dip, as George also suffered a drop of 0.6 percent.

Tarana stood out on the other side, growing its station share by 0.5 percent.

Moving on to the household shoppers with kids category, the growth story again belonged to The Breeze, which lifted its overall listenership by 10,000 and its station share by 1.3 percent.    

Mai FM and Coast caught themselves on the other side of the graph, with the former slipping by 4,000 listeners and 0.5 percent share, and the latter by 5,000 listeners and also a 0.6 percent in share.

Life’s good in the niche

Much of the radio survey discussion is usually dominated by the tussle between the big commercial networks, but there was also a good story for one of the indies in the mix.

Tarana posted a strong survey, lifting its listenership by 18,000 overall and adding listeners across every segment.

The station now broadcasts to 68,000 listeners on a weekly basis, keeping the growing Indian community informed on what’s happening in New Zealand.

And while the station might still be small compared to its counterparts, it serves as a reminder that the nation’s broad radio portfolio plays an important role in giving immediate localised media to a broad spectrum of New Zealanders.

The point being, there’s a little space on the dancefloor for anyone interested.


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