Radio’s reach: changing the way we listen

“Hey Alexa, play X radio station.”

The way we tune into our favourite audio channels has changed much over the past few years. This trend is set to continue as new voice and listening technologies become more mainstream and platforms from streaming to podcast become increasingly popular.

It’s these changing modes of listening that’s driving the exceptional growth in the audio industry, offering media owners and advertisers more opportunities to reach new and larger audiences at convenient times and in a more personalised way.

Off the back of their presentation at TRB’s Power of Audio conference, James Butcher Head of Digital Audio at NZME and Richie Culph Rova Content Director at MediaWorks speak to StopPress about what’s trending with this channel and where the opportunities are for New Zealand brands.

What are the current digital audio trends disrupting the way we consume radio?

Richie: The transition to digital that’s been evident with other mass media like Print and TV is now becoming evident in radio, and Covid has accelerated the change.

As devices and content continue to proliferate, consumers expect to be able to listen on their platform, schedule and terms. Radio is still extremely popular in New Zealand, with 76% of Kiwis 10+ listening weekly*, but now more of that listening is done via digital platforms, and we can expect this trend to continue.

In the US last year, listening to radio via digital platforms was high at 45 percent. Since Covid, it’s passed the half-way mark and now 53 percent of radio listening is done on digital or on demand capable device like a mobile or smart speaker.** Covid had similar effects on digital listening in New Zealand. When you overlay consumption trends of both rova and iHeartRadio across 2020, the resemblance is striking.

On demand audio (podcasts) and smart speakers (Amazon Alexa, Google Home) are key examples of different ways of consuming audio that are experiencing massive growth. It’s clear New Zealand is behind global trends here, but you would be brave to think we weren’t headed in that same direction. 

Mobile data costs continue to be a hurdle for on-the-go consumption, but as they decrease, so digital consumption will increase.

What are some of the biggest challenges these new trends present to media owners?

James: Digital is creating huge opportunities by making our brands, talent and shows more accessible. But, the audio landscape has grown in size and complexity, with new players to audio who haven’t historically been considered as competition.

Netflix speaks about this well on their channel when describing one of their main competitors as “sleep”. How do we get people to watch one more show before they turn the lights out? 

There is also now a flood of all types of audio content coming from offshore, the good, the bad and the ugly (there are over 51 million podcast episodes, whilst Spotify has a reported music catalogue of 70 million). So, probably the biggest challenge is the volume of choice audiences have, we feel we have a responsibility to create a platform where Kiwi audiences can find high quality, local, audio content.

How are you MediaWorks and NZME positioning yourselves to take on these challenges?

Richie: The industry has had the luxury of seeing what has happened in print and video, and now that it’s our turn to evolve, MediaWorks is very ready.

I think having our own platform in rova is invaluable in terms of control over our own destiny, and being able to create bespoke experiences for Kiwis. This includes being able to effectively meet one of the biggest challenges, podcasts.

Although there’s competition at a platform level from international players like Spotify and Apple, these guys have yet to make a meaningful contribution at a local content level, and in fact rely on third-party content to appear locally relevant. Conversely, MediaWorks is extremely proud of and passionate about our national and regional market dominance built on a bedrock of relevant local content. MediaWorks will look to translate our broadcast strengths into podcast.

I think the quality and production values of podcasts is going to be key moving forward. There will always be a place for ‘two people having a conversation’, but as bigger players take it more seriously, the bar is going to be raised and MediaWorks is focussed on creating high quality content that will stand the test of time.

Having literate sales teams and infrastructure is another key challenge. Although there are similarities, selling dynamic audio ads (the advertising currency of digital audio) is quite a different proposition compared to selling broadcast ads. Again, we understand this challenge and we’re adapting to meet it.

James: We’re really energised about the future. We continue to focus on what we’re good at, the enormous strength of our local brands from Newstalk ZBZMRadio Hauraki and their work with Digital Native Brand The Alternative Commentary Collective and audio content produced for the New Zealand Herald

The focus for NZME is how we deliver more and better locally sourced, created or curated content, entertainment and news to Kiwis in the moments and format they want it. We’ve partnered with iHeartRadio as a world class music, radio and podcasting application so we can continue to develop and focus on our strengths.  

What does this digital direction mean for advertisers on the radio?

Richie: Advertisers will have greater ability to reach more listeners in more places and deliver a more personalised experience. As with all digital, of course there’s more data and measurability – which advertising clients and agencies love. 

One great thing about dynamic audio advertising delivered via digital audio is being able to dial up that relevancy and connect more effectively. When a listener is consuming on a traditional platform an advertiser can personalise based on the region you’re in, the time of day you’re listening, and the kind of content you’re consuming. With digital audio, there are so many more data points to leverage. Behaviour and intent are intensely powerful levers to pull in this space.

James: Our recent award-winning campaign with Corona is a perfect example of this. Using the benefits of digital and radio, we targeted people who were on the move and served them a personalised message based on their proximity to a beach, including the name of beach and the current surf conditions (a surf report) ‘Corona, from where you’d rather be’. 

This allowed us to turn up in a mass channel, but be contextually and environmentally more relevant, creating a better listener experience, but, as importantly, delivering greater impact for our brand partner. This campaign appeared on both NZME and MediaWorks channels.

How do you think you will be consuming radio in the next five years?

Richie: Largely the same as we are now – while you’re doing something else – but on an even wider variety of digital platforms.

The car radio won’t be dead in five years, but you’ll see a lot more usage of connected car technology like Car Play or Android Auto.

A key use case of smart speakers is music radio – almost half of Amazon Alexa users engage with radio regularly. As smart speakers become more popular (I have one in every room including bathrooms) the opportunity to ‘put on the radio’ is not only easier than ever, but in a world of granular control and decision making; it provides relief from the burden of choosing ‘what song is next’ or ‘what am I going to pick for everyone to listen to’.  

Radio Broadcasters will be creating a lot more content – live, music and on demand – and I believe leading the way in podcasts as we pivot our business models to follow audiences.

James: I believe all of us will be consuming more radio. We’re working closely as a radio content team thinking about how we continue to serve our audiences in a world where people want to access their content, on their terms.

No longer limited by a frequency, or a schedule, I think we’ll see new show formats and new opportunities for fans to engage with their favourite talent and show. 

The Radio Bureau helps agencies navigate the New Zealand radio landscape. They work closely with MediaWorks, NZME and independent radio stations to provide the most comprehensive, effective and impartial radio solutions possible. See more at trb.co.nz 

Watch the full presentation from TRB’s Power of Audio:

This story is part of a content partnership with The Radio Bureau.

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