Radio survey results: overall listenership stays strong, The Rock bounces back and Newstalk ZB wobbles at the top

Over the last decade, the internet has laid its claws into the media landscape, pulling audiences from every channel into its infinite content machine. Radio has certainly not been immune.

However, over the last six years, radio has enjoyed a level of consistency that any of the traditional channels would be happy with.

The latest survey by GFK shows that 79 percent of New Zealanders (3.2 million) still listen to commercial radio each week—a result on par with figures recorded in 2011.  

The latest survey also recorded growth between the two most recent surveys, with the latest result showing an increase from 38,000 listeners from numbers released in July.   

What’s more is that radio remains strong across all demographic groups, even those on the younger side.

The news might be good for the industry as a whole, but that’s not why the survey results are always such a great industry spectacle. This is about rivalry, on-air battles and declaring your brand number one across all of the known universe.

In terms of overall radio listenership, MediaWorks emerged the victor with 2.2 million weekly listeners to the 1.8 million of NZME.

MediaWorks programming director Leon Wratt says this is incredibly important because it shows that radio continues to have the scale that major brands are after.

“There are always individual gains for brands, but the reach is definitely what advertisers are after,” Wratt says.  “And my role is to make sure that that can stay as high as it possibly can and we can reach as many people as possible.”

NZME commercial director Laura Maxwell agrees that the continued strength of radio is certainly good for the industry as a whole, but adds it’s only part of the picture.

She says that in addition to the daily radio shows, commercial radio stations now reach their audiences across various touchpoints, all of which are excluded in the specific channel-based results.   

NZME elaborated further on this narrative in its now- customary survey video, which this time focused on the fact that NZME reaches “even more people than you might think.”

In terms of overall reach (CUME) in the 10-plus category, the top three stations all belonged to MediaWorks.

Long-standing incumbent, The Edge, retained its position as the most popular station in New Zealand, pulling in a total audience of 651,000 listeners.

More FM and The Breeze claimed second and third place, respectively, and also enjoyed some of the best overall growth in this round of the survey, with the former lifting its audience by 19,600 listeners and the latter by 21,800.

However, these growth numbers were both dwarfed by the enormous jump of 38,500 listeners that the Rock enjoyed in the latest survey round.

Wratt was particularly pleased about this result, given that The Rock dipped slightly back in the July survey.

“This is a great result,” says Wratt.

“We’ve changed a few things with our programming and playlists, and they’re working.” 

When the previous survey results were released, Wratt expressed concern about the likelihood of rock stations attracting new audiences, given that playlists had stagnated over the last few years. However, this result seems to suggest that the hosts on The Rock have no problem pulling in the ears of Kiwi listeners.

This was also reflected at NZME-owned Hauraki, which, now in its 50th year, also enjoyed a strong survey, lifting its audience by 12,000. 

NZME entertainment director Dean Buchanan applauded the creativity of presenters working across the channel and said they were integral in setting up a bright future for the brand.

Buchanan also singled out the ZM brand for praise on account of the brand lifting its overall audience by 10,500 listeners.

“We’ve made some pretty big changes to that station and they’re starting to take effect,” Buchanan says.

He says he was particularly satisfied with the performance of the morning crew made up of Fletch, Vaughan and Megan.

“They attracted 30,000 new listeners, and beat Jay Jay, Dom and Randell in the 18-39 category.” 

One the other side of the spectrum, the three biggest drops in CUME were suffered by Newstalk ZB, The Sound and The Hits.

Newstalk ZB had a particularly tough survey, dropping 42,900 listeners, while The Sound slipped by 18,800 and The Hits lost 13,200.

NZME managing editor Shayne Currie says the survey was conducted in a slightly quieter news period, after Brexit and before the US election hit peak interest.

He says the biggest event during the period was the Olympics, and this usually associated with online viewing.

For this reason, Currie says there was a major lift during this period for all the online channels, making up for the drop in radio listenership.        

But it wasn’t all bad news for Newstalk ZB. The station still remains the national leader in terms of station share, and the competitive breakfast show (hosted by Hosking) still remains well ahead of the competition.

The morning talkback segment also takes on greater significance, given the impending departure of Paul Henry, who won the Broadcaster of the Year Award this year.

The responsibility of filling those big shoes will now rest with Duncan Garner, who has already shown himself adept across both television, radio and online. And as indicated by a quirky promotional song written to promote MediaWorks, such multichannel prowess happens to be integral to what the company offers advertisers.

Whether Garner has what it takes to cut into Hosking’s lead is yet to be seen. 

Winners and losers in the advertising segments

The 25-54 segment remains incredibly important to the commercial stations, because it’s here where the major decision regarding spend are made. Dollars and made and lost as audiences shift across this category.

MediaWorks had a particularly strong showing in this category, winning the top five slots in terms of station share among music stations (with The Rock, More FM, The Edge, The Sound and The Breeze) as well as the top three stations in overall listener numbers (The Rock, The Edge and More FM).

While MediaWorks certainly had a few things to celebrate, one of the most interesting stories of this category—and perhaps the survey—was that of NZME brand, Coast. 

Traditionally considered a brand targeting the oldies, Coast had until recently been very popular among listeners older than 60.   

However, as Buchanan explains: “We don’t have many advertisers asking us for listeners over 60 years old.”

So earlier this year, NZME launched a major campaign aimed at repositioning Coast to pull in younger audience. And according to Buchanan, it’s showing signs of working, with Coast coming in as the second biggest winner in the 25-54 category, pulling in an additional 19,200 listeners.

“It was also the number one station for 40-plus listeners,” Buchanan adds.

Coast certainly did perform well, but the biggest winner by quite a substantial margin was The Rock, which pulled in an additional 37,600 weekly listeners.

This is a major win for MediaWorks, because the team at The Rock, particularly Jono and Ben, have over the past year done some major integrated campaigns with advertisers. The continued strength of this brand will thereby lend itself to more collaborations in the future.

The other big winners in this category were The Edge (up 13,9000), More FM (up 15,000) and Hauraki (up 13,900).

Not as positive were the losses of 20,500 listeners at The Hits, 14,300 at Newstalk ZB and 12,300 at Radio Live.

The Hits also suffered the biggest drop in station share, slipping 1.4 percent.   

Alongside the 25-54 category, another really important segment to advertisers is the 18-34 category—and Mai FM definitely reigned supreme here.

The hip-hop station increased its audience by 20,700 listeners and grew its station share level by two percent.

Some way behind Mai FM were Radio Hauraki (with 13,500 more listeners) and Flava (with 10,800).

The growth enjoyed by Mai FM and Flava is also emblematic of the growing popularity of hip-hop in the New Zealand music scene, a trend which is showing few signs of abating at this stage.

Somewhat unsurprisingly, given the younger slant of this segment, the biggest losers in this category were The Sound (down 20,400 listeners) and The Hits (down 12,700). However, it’s unlikely that any youth-focused brands would use either of those stations to target 18-34-year-olds in any case.

The final category that advertisers watch closely is household shoppers with kids. And this category is all about the entertainment brands.

The Rock again came out on top in terms of growth, increasing its audience by 17,100 listeners, followed by The Edge (up by 15,400) and ZM (up by 13,600).

The household shopper category was not as kind to the talkback brands, with the Newstalk ZB audience dropping by 19,000 listeners and Radio Live slipping by 3,100. 

Digital growth

Although there were a few ups and downs for both networks, one positive story across the divide lies in the digital numbers, which have grown consistently over the last few years.

Buchanan says iHeartRadio now has over 500,000 registered users (up 23 percent year on year) and has tallied over 660,000 app downloads, (26 percent increase year on year).

Similarly, Wratt says the radio brands at MediaWorks have been growing quickly in the online space. And this is particularly promising, given that MediaWorks is poised to launch an online platform, which will bring together all its brands in a single place. 

Until now, MediaWorks has taken a brand-based strategy, allowing its brands to exist independently. However, the new platform will tie everything together a bit closer and give users a direct point of contact for all MediaWorks radio content.

And as this platform starts to take on iHeartRadio, it will add some additional intrigue to the ongoing radio battle. 

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