Radio rating recipes for success

Let’s get cooking. Take one set of commercial radio ratings. Slice and dice. Mix ingredients. Bake in a hot oven.

It produces winners every time. Note the plural. It’s there because both major commercial radio operators claim they baked the best cake in the second GfK commercial ratings survey of the year.

NZME crowed that Newstalk ZB “has continued its upward trajectory while retaining its position as New Zealand’s number one network”. Meanwhile MediaWorks claimed The Breeze was the top music station and had “the most listeners of all commercial radio stations”.

Who was right? Well, they both were.

NZME’s statement was based on audience share. With 12.6 per cent of the total audience, it was well ahead of The Breeze on nine per cent. Those percentages are based on the total audience each station attracts. In other words, some people are listening at various times of the week and may be counted more than once.

MediaWorks’ claim that The Breeze had the largest number of listeners was based on a different calculation: The cumulative audience or the number of different listeners who tuned in. On that basis it has a weekly audience of 671,700, against Newstalk ZB’s 651,200.

So, both broadcasters can legitimately claim their station is Number One.

In fact, they can make all manner of claims, depending on which statistics they choose and how they present them.

For example, NZME would be reluctant to publicise the figures for Newstalk ZB with audiences between 18 and 54, where it ranks well down the Top 10. MediaWorks would show similar reluctance to publicise The Breeze’s standing in the 18-34 age bracket where its standing is middling.

Naturally, the broadcasters mix and match in ways that show their enterprises to best advantage. The GfK ratings provide them with ample opportunities. Not only are the nationwide statistics broken down by audience share, cumulative audience, and age demographics but by geographic markets. Within those markets the broadcasters can also see the ratings and rankings of each of their stations across different time zones

In the lucrative Auckland market, Newstalk ZB has a seemingly unassailable lead in share with more than 15 per cent of the audience – five percentage points ahead of The Breeze – and has a narrower lead in cumulative audience with almost 16,000 more listeners than MediaWorks’ Mai FM. In the breakfast slot, Mike Hosking’s audience share sits on more than 22 per cent, which is double that of the Mai Morning Crew.

MediaWorks has chosen to tell its success story by taking all the ingredients and mixing them in one bowl. It has matched the total of all its stations’ ratings nationwide against those of NZME. It posted a series of graphics on its website last week indicating it was outpacing its competitor by some margin.

Its total cumulative audience sits at 2.6 million compared with NZME’s 1.96 million. Its total share of audience sits at 54.7 per cent against NZME’s 34.4 per cent and, across all stations, it claims a larger audience in both breakfast and drivetime nationwide.

For its part, NZME highlighted the fact that Newstalk ZB’s total audience of 651,200 was the largest in the station’s history. It also highlighted its multi-platform approach: Its listenership on the digital iHeartRadio platform had risen by nine per cent to 32 million hours of downloads across the first half of the year, and there has been 14 per cent growth in podcasting over 2020.

Rivalry aside, the survey was good news for the industry overall. It showed more than 3.7 million New Zealanders were listening to radio weekly, with over 3.5 million of those listening to commercial radio stations, an increase of approximately 46,600 people aged 10+ from the first survey of the year.

It seems that everyone’s a winner in radio this year. All they need to do is choose the right ratings ingredients.

The Devlin debacle

NZME might have been able to bake a winning ratings cake, but it has had far less success with the way its investigation of complaints against radio host Martin Devlin have emerged from the oven.

Devlin had been the subject of complaints including an allegation that he had swung a punch (which did not connect) at another NZME staff member. He stood down while the complaints were investigated.

Stuff journalist Simon Plumb has been charting the course of the complaints and investigation.

Late last month he revealed that Devlin had pre-empted any release of the investigation findings by saying he was in the clear and would soon be back on air.

A week ago, Plumb revealed the contents of a leaked email to NZME staff from managing editor Shayne Currie which stated: “As you are aware, Martin Devlin has been off work while an independent investigation was conducted by senior employment lawyer, Bridget Smith of SBM Legal. In respect of the two formal complaints made against him, her report has found that neither complaint was substantiated. These two complaints related to alleged behaviour in separate incidents in the newsroom. “We will advise when Martin will be back at work in due course. As this is a private employment matter, we will not be making any further comment about it.”

When approached by Plumb, NZME refused to comment on the email.

The following day, Plumb revealed that the young journalist who was the victim in the punch incident had resigned from NZME. The journalist is believed to have started another job. Plumb said Stuff understands as part of an exit deal, NZME paid a settlement fee and had the worker sign a non-disclosure agreement – “gagging them from publicly discussing their employment at the media company”.

That was not the end of the saga.

On the same day the resignation was revealed, Plumb and his colleague George Block recalled that employment lawyer Bridget Smith had stated – in an unpublished interview conducted before her appointment to lead the investigation – that NZME could have fired Devlin on the basis of a record of erratic behaviour but had chosen not to. In the interview she apparently said that the latest complaint might not reach the required threshold for dismissal. She revealed the interview to NZME prior to her appointment.

“When I read through some additional reporting that’s been done it appears not only does he have form, he has good form for … not only making comments that have been found to be inappropriate, but also for some physical displays like jumping on the car,” Smith was quoted as saying. “So, when you do look at all of that, I think it is reasonable to question what is NZME doing here? “Why do they want to keep this guy in employment?”

When asked by Plumb last week if she stood by those comments, Smith declined to comment.

Employment issues are difficult to handle, and employers walk a tightrope when it comes to public disclosure. There is added complexity when one employee makes a complaint against another.

Nonetheless, when the subject of complaint is a public figure and when the employer is a media company that seeks to hold others to account, the matter demands transparency to the limit of what is permitted by law.

That did not happen.

NZME had a very public complaint on its hands, but it tried to keep the matter in-house. That was ill-advised and the story spun out of its control. Devlin’s pre-emptive disclosure was borne out by the leaked email. NZME’s hope that the departure of the victim could be kept under wraps was wishful thinking.

It should now release the results of the investigation, if for no other reason than to reconcile the finding, the lawyer’s earlier statement, the young journalist’s resignation, and Delvin’s public apology (when he was stood down) for throwing the punch and for unwelcome messages he admitted sending to colleagues.

Public Interest Journalism Fund

First, a disclosure: I was one of several independent assessors considering applications for the first round of New Zealand on Air’s Public Interest Journalism Fund. A confidentiality clause prevents me from discussing the detail of those applications and the grants.

I do, however, feel able to make one comment: An examination of the grants should allay fears that public money for private sector journalism puts journalists in the government’s pocket. Two examples: A grant that will allow BusinessDesk to investigate the quality, size, organisation, capabilities, and composition of NZ’s public service, and another that will allow investigative journalist Bryan Bruce to revisit Child Poverty in New Zealand 10 years after the screening of his original documentary.


To Magic Talk’s drivetime host Ryan Bridge for a magnificent effort in raising (at least) $333,000 for the Child Cancer Foundation in a 36-hour Talkathon…and losing his long locks in the process.





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