As the radio intrigue continues, media experts weigh in on the continued relevancy of TRB

The radio industry has been fizzing in recent months. MediaWorks claimed that it was leading the charge on a new research methodology, NZME then decided to independently finance an industry-wide T1 survey after it was scrapped earlier this year, and then Gill Stewart stepped down from her position as the general manager of The Radio Bureau (TRB). So is there still a place for TRB? 

The departure of Stewart led some to speculate on the likely longevity of TRB in a rapidly changing radio market where the two major competitors are struggling to co-operate on matters as integral as a radio survey.

Raising further eyebrows was the fact TRB account director Gerhard Simanke and digital planner Johnathan Schaffer joined the MediaWorks sales team in mid February and are now working alongside the network’s commercial director Paul Hancox and group head of revenue Liz Fraser.   

NZME, MediaWorks Radio, TRB and the Radio Broadcasters Association (RBA) were all questioned on the future of the industry body, but in each case spokespeople referred StopPress to a release on the appointment of TRB finance and operations manager Peter Richardson as the interim general manager of the organisation.

Contained in that release was the following joint statement signed off by NZME Radio managing director Dean Buchanan and MediaWorks Radio chief executive Wendy Palmer:

With both NZME and MediaWorks having met to discuss next steps for TRB, we wanted to provide you with an update.

Most importantly both companies are committed to TRB and want to ensure its complete relevancy to the radio industry for the future. As a result we are appointing a consultant to work with you to ensure TRB is fit for purpose.

We are thrilled that TRB Finance and Operations Manager, Peter Richardson, has agreed to be the interim TRB General Manager while the review is conducted to ensure that we can establish what skill set is needed for a suitable replacement. Additional planning resource will also be looked at to ensure TRB is adequately catered for.

With personnel changes at TRB there will be some new account contacts which will be communicated to you where relevant.

As an industry we will continue to seek your input and keep you updated.

The uniform silence across both networks (one of the few times they seem to have agreed on anything recently), the TRB and the RBA is largely attributable to the fact that the matter is currently under review.

While not willing to speculate on what the future might hold for TRB, Association of New Zealand Advertisers (ANZA) chief executive Lindsay Mouat believes that it is important for the industry body to evolve to stay relevant in a changing media landscape.      

“The future of TRB is obviously a decision for its shareholders and I wouldn’t want to speculate,” Mouat says. “However, TRB was set up in a very different media environment. It was tasked to grow radio’s share of the advertising pie and to provide advertisers and their agencies with a simpler mechanism for buying radio at a time when it was fragmented and it was time-consuming to put together a national buy … Clearly that has changed and with the growth in digital channels and increasing cross-platform media ownership it is not surprising that media owners are increasingly offering media buys that layer across their media channels.”

Both sides of the radio divide are now bundling packages that offer advertisers space on their various media channels. In the case of MediaWorks, this has seen television, radio and digital bundles being sold, while NZME is selling across radio, the Herald and other websites (NZME is also working closely with TVNZ). What this means is that the networks are sometimes bypassing TRB in selling advertising, because many deals aren’t channel specific.

Although this creates a level of uncertainty regarding the future of TRB, 30-year media industry veteran Kevin Blight, currently serving as the director of MediaMap, doesn’t see this as the end of the road for the organisation. 

“I doubt the TRB will be dissolved but in all probability NZME and MediaWorks will open the door to taking agency bookings directly,” says Blight. “This is because they will be seeking to get a bigger share of money already allocated to radio in a planning sense and they will be seeking to package up their offering across all media. This will in the longer term mean that revenue through the TRB will decline and it’s hard to see it continuing in its present format. It may in the middle term become a marketing arm for the radio industry in the sense of selling the values of radio to agencies and advertisers.”

Another possibility is that TRB is merged with the RBA to make a single industry body that represents the entire industry. And this wouldn’t be unique to New Zealand, given that this was exactly what happened in the UK in 2006 when its Radio Advertising Bureau merged with the Commercial Radio Companies Association to form what is now known as Radio Centre.   

And although he didn’t comment on the liklihood of a merger, Blight does foresee the local radio market becoming more akin to its international counterparts as the networks continue to push cross-channel deals.      

“Gill Stewart always argued that TRB being a centralised organisation that promoted and sold radio is the reason that radio’s share of revenue in New Zealand has been maintained at such a high level,” explains Blight. “It’s my understanding that globally radio’s share of revenue is around seven percent, Australia’s around eight percent and New Zealand at around 12 percent. This could easily decline as NZME and MediaWorks will on the one hand be focusing on presenting multi-media packages rather than promoting radio directly and on the other hand when they are selling a radio spot plan, for example, the pricing will come down as they fight for a bigger share of the radio budget.”

If the industry is to become decentralised and sell beyond the remit of TRB, then Blight believes that this will have further repercussions in that the radio performance surveys have until now “predominantly been handled by TRB”. And this means that media agencies will potentially have to play a more active role in determining the value of advertising in certain slots.    

“It’s timely that the industry is looking for a new measure of radio measurement,” Blight says. “Apart from more accuracy, it will possibly allow agencies and advertisers to plan for seasonal variations in listening and take into account changes in station formats.”

Blight also says that this could be taken a step further by lifting the measurement standard to that used in television.   

“There is another opportunity [in] auditing actual performance against planned performance. The television market does this through post analysis. The radio industry could do the same … It seems to me that advertisers need to understand the exposure they have received to better understand what has worked in terms of awareness, preference and sales (etc) from their point of view.”

At this stage, the neither NZME nor MediaWorks have specified conclusively what format the new radio survey will take. For now, the industry is waiting for the results of the NZME-financed survey, which will be released in May. However, as explained by a media agency source who preferred to remain anonymous, this in itself is “a massive can of worms” due to the events leading up to the survey:               

“Using tech to get more accurate and timely data will be great but dropping T1 to pay for it seems a bit petty from MediaWorks. Their numbers are strong at the moment, I wouldn’t hurry into this if I was them … NZME is reinstating it because their numbers are dire and they believe their changes will push them up. But what if they don’t?” 

Another issue raised by the source is in regard to survey promotions, which see the networks push to increase their audience numbers in the lead up to the survey. Given that NZME knew about the survey in advance this could in effect give the network an advantage in the survey. Alternatively, it could also reveal that the survey promotions don’t really make a difference to radio numbers.

If the latest Radio New Zealand results are anything to go by, then the commercial stations could be in for some bad news. According to a report on the Herald, Nielsen’s figures showed that the cumulative reach for National and Concert was only 484,000, the lowest it has ever been.

In the report, Radio New Zealand chief executive Paul Thompson said that the poor survey results were attributable to audiences not connecting with some of the newer hosts.

“Our audience likes consistency and it does take time for them to warm to new people and this is probably a key factor here,” Thompson told the Herald.

Given that both MediaWorks and NZME have also weathered some significant changes over the last year, they’ll hope that their numbers are stronger than these.     

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