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Shock news: The Spinoff’s readers are extremely online

The Spinoff partnered with UMR to survey the attitudes of our readers, and the nation as a whole. Today, how are we consuming media, and what do we reckon about it?

Previously: Data! Opinions! The results of The Spinoff’s major national survey with UMR

With apologies to Maddie Holden, clicks are abundant and low value.

That’s basically the key finding around how New Zealanders use media in 2018, from The Spinoff’s recent survey with UMR. We’ve overwhelmingly turned away from traditional mediums, and now get huge swathes of our news online. But that presents a serious problem for the industry as a whole, because clicks are so much more difficult to monetise.

Here’s the first graph, which shows the medium people are using as their main source of news. A point to note here – we didn’t break it down into which particular outlet within that medium people are going to. So radio, for example, could be Radio NZ, or Newstalk ZB or Radio Live. It could even be the news bulletins on Coast. What we’re asking is the how, not the who. Note – the question on websites was asked differently between surveys, and the nationwide survey was not asked to differentiate between NZ and overseas sites. 

Obviously the audience of The Spinoff is extremely online. We are – after all, a website! So it stands to reason that the combined total of NZ and overseas based news sites, and social media, all add up to a bit over three quarters.

But look at the figures on the left, which represent a survey of New Zealanders as a whole. And what you’ll find is that the big, monetisable mediums are in deep trouble. TV holds a quarter of the population as their main source of news. Print newspapers have just five percent. Radio has just ten percent (and a chunk of that will be listeners to the non-commercial Radio NZ)

Maybe the question is unfair though, and it doesn’t matter so much what the main source of news is. After all, some people might read a paper, put the radio on in the car, and watch the TV news at night. So have a look at this table:

A few of these numbers have been broken down into a bit more detail. 43% of the country watch a TV news show each day, and the numbers of regular but not daily watchers aren’t dire. 40% listen to the radio daily, and two-thirds listen at least weekly. But as the GfK surveys show, the vast majority of commercial radio listening goes to music stations, rather than news stations. A meagre 13% read a print newspaper every day, with almost half of the country hardly ever or never reading.

Two other news mediums where the numbers are really interesting: Print magazines and podcasts. Both have fantastic commercial potential, both have great opportunities for strong investigative journalism, but both lack mass-market penetration. Magazines have two potential income streams of subscriptions and advertising, but the numbers there are horrendous – 41% of people hardly ever pick one up, and almost a quarter never do. As for podcasts, in-show ads are really hard to avoid (after listening to some American podcasts I now know far too much about Blue Apron) but they haven’t taken off among the population at large yet. Perhaps again reflecting the fact that The Spinoff has a big stable of podcasts, our readers are much more likely to be regular listeners too.

As we can therefore see, the numbers are still best for online news sites. So that’s the abundance of clicks, but why are they low value? Part of the reason is that a huge proportion of the digital ad spend in New Zealand now bypasses media companies completely, and goes to web companies like Google, Facebook Youtube and TradeMe. And of those clicks for media companies, the amount of advertising money that can be brought in is pretty small. Take for example newspapers, and digital spending on newspaper brands. Here’s how ad-industry website StopPress put it at the start of the year when analysing 2017 figures:

“Newspapers sat at $353 million, with the digital aspect at $82 million. This was quite a big drop from 2016 at $417 million, however, it would be good to see for publishers the increase in the digital, up from $61 million.” Even with that growth, and decline in print ad revenue, newspapers still earned a far far bigger share of their income from print ads, as opposed to their digital ads.

Or how about this for digital advertising? If you don’t use ad-blocker, you’ll have noticed this (also don’t use ad-blocker, even meagre revenues for news companies are better than nothing) When you click on a video story on, say, the Newshub website, it will serve up a 15 second pre-roll ad before the video plays. But not only that, in some cases the player will simply start playing the next video straight afterwards, with another pre-roll for good measure. Journalism isn’t cheap to pay for, and websites aren’t cheap to run, and until recently, they’ve largely been considered to be loss-leaders for legacy news brands to get their content out there.

So is there any good news for traditional media outlets in New Zealand? Actually, yes. This table here shows arguably the one real bright spot for the news industry.

Far more people have some degree of trust in newspapers, TV and radio news outlets than not. And significantly as well, the numbers swing pretty much entirely the opposite way when the question is trust in social media and blogs. That arguably shows there is still faith among the public in reputable news outlets, and the ‘gatekeeper’ role they can provide. As the likes of the NZ Herald consider implementing their long-planned digital paywall for premium content, they will be banking on converting that position of trust into consumers once again spending money on news.


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