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Radio ratings report: Bittersweet results for Mediaworks, more bad news for NZME

Tim Murphy analyses the latest GfK radio listenership figures and finds evidence that the NewstalkZB juggernaut is finally starting to slow.

Radio ratings out today will have been a bittersweet dessert for the executives of MediaWorks as they launched their television new season at a lunch at the Northern Club.

Sweet because their radio division has built on its stonking clean-up of the opposition NZME stations in the music categories in the July survey, and is now claiming the top five spots nationally for the first time.

Sweet too because their talk brand Radio Live has started to eat away in these GfK commercial radio ratings at the immovable object that is NewstalkZB, with NZME’s flagship dropping in share nationally (down from 11.7 to 9.9) and in Auckland (down from 14 to 11.2).

The bitter part is that one strand of Radio Live’s success has been in the Breakfast slot where Paul Henry – the man who is leaving the show at year’s end – has edged up from 5.9 to 6.3 share nationally, while Newstalk’s Mike Hosking dropped nationally to a 12.7 from 14.8 last time.

A Mediaworks publicity photo of Duncan Garner and the man he is replacing, Paul Henry

A Mediaworks publicity photo of Duncan Garner and the man he is replacing, Paul Henry

In Auckland, Hosking’s lock on the breakfast market remains but his share had a rare, unlovely drop from 17.9 to 14.2. Henry’s Auckland audience was up from 5.6 to 6.0.

Average ratings results are the last thing NZME needs as it struggles through a tumultuous week that has seen its total market value drop to as little as $96m.

While there will be puzzlement and worry at NZME at the sudden fall of their number one star, and at the drop in both Newstalk’s overall and Auckland ratings, the exit of Henry from Radio Live will be a relief.

For MediaWorks, just as their biggest star begins to get the talk brand’s breakfast show finally in the game he is walking away, abandoning the joint TV-radio show.

His replacement host, Duncan Garner, was slightly down in his drive time slot nationally, but so was NewstalkZB. Whether his more blokey persona will shift share towards Live in the mornings is a big question.

In music, what was a golden result for MediaWorks last time became solid gold today. It added 60,000 listeners across the country to a weekly total of 2.2m and achieved that clean sweep of the top five music stations.

The biggest was More FM, which held steady at an 8.4 share, matched by The Rock, which was up 1.6, The Edge on 8.2, Breeze on 7.9 and Sound on 6.8. Between them they pushed NZME’s one-time music number one, Coast, down to sixth on a 6.6 share.

While there was good news for MediaWorks in a difficult week of Henry’s departure announcement and the decision to close the 7pm TV show Story next month, there was little to celebrate for NZME radio.

The downturn for NewstalkZB, the placing of its top music station at 6th, and the incremental turnaround for other music stations comes as the parent company NZME had its bid to merge with competitor Fairfax NZ rejected in a preliminary decision of the Commerce Commission. Its share price plummeted to 49c – down from a launch price of 86c for a share nominally valued at $1.

And this week in a withering decision the Broadcasting Standards Authority imposed $8000 in penalties and costs on NZME’s Radio Hauraki for duping a cricketer’s mother on-air and for its management failing to appropriately deal with continuing fallout.

NZME chief executive Michael Boggs put a brave face on the results in a memo to staff today, which started by claiming they “reveal great news for us and the industry”.

But he also detailed a company-wide fix is underway for the radio products. “There is still much more to do and there are areas where we must improve.

“Returning radio to growth is one of our 7 areas of strategic focus for 2016.”

A major research exercise would be undertaken to “focus our attention to ensure we are improving our overall results.”

Working groups from across NZME were busy with ideas and striving “to drive radio results”.

Publicly owned Radio New Zealand is also in the survey but its results are released separately later.

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