Radio ratings recipe: Sliced, diced and spiced.

Today’s cookery class is about preparation or, more precisely, how to slice and dice.

The ingredients for this lesson are two major radio operators, 3.7 million people aged over 10, and one audience survey company. The recipe can be found in the GfK New Zealand Commercial Radio Second Survey 2022.

The real attraction of this recipe is that it can be cooked so many different ways and that makes it a favourite with the radio networks. The secret lies in the way you chop up the ingredients.

The best way to demonstrate the versatility of this recipe is to take you through the way it was cooked following the latest delivery of ingredients last week.

Several chefs tried their hands at the recipe. Let’s look at how they fared.

NZME’s version appeared on the New Zealand Herald website but the name of the chef was not included.

Its introduction stated that “for 14 years running, Newstalk ZB remains the top commercial radio network”. That’s true, but what the Herald story did not tell you was that its 15.2 per cent share (a cumulative audience aged 10+ of 719,100) was actually down on the previous survey where it scored a 16.9 per cent share (744,000 listeners). Admittedly, the Herald could have noted they were up on the same period last year.

The story also trumpeted: “With Newstalk ZB’s winning streak continuing in this survey, Mike Hosking’s Breakfast continues to reach massive audiences. It boasts more than 504,000 listeners – about 185,000 more than any other breakfast show in the country.” All true, too, but it didn’t tell you the number was down on the previous survey when he drew a cumulative audience of 511,700.

The report told us that “ZM has the most listeners in the country across the highly competitive 18-39 and 25-54 year-old demographics”. Well, yes and no. It topped the cumulative audience in the all-important 25-54 age group but was beaten by opposition network The Breeze on audience share (12 per cent versus eight per cent).

This was about the GfK survey but when it came to the total audience across all of its radio networks, NZME’s Herald went the extra yard by telling us that its two million total audience was supplemented by its digital radio platform iHeart Radio “which reaches a million devices and boasted 5.2 million listening hours last month.” Why did it need to augment the basic number and muddy the waters with alternative measures? It did so because its two million audience was pipped by MediaWorks’ 2.4 million listeners aged 10+, not that the story included that fact.

For its part, MediaWorks highlighted the 2.4 million (sorry, 2.44 million), although it failed to mention the number was 1.7% down on the previous survey.

Then it sliced and diced the ingredients, concentrating on the data that showed it in the best light. For example, it highlighted the 25-54 age demographic, where it correctly placed The Breeze, the Rock and More FM in the top three places. However, it ignored the fact that in the total radio audience ­NZME’s NewsTalk ZB took the top audience share spot. And, in terms of cumulative audience, The Rock was beaten by NZME’s ZM.

MediaWorks told us The Rock is the “Number One” station in Waikato, Southland and Nelson but failed to acknowledge that in seven of the 13 radio markets Newstalk ZB took the top slot and dominated the crucial Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch and Dunedin markets. It also chose to highlight The Edge’s Auckland audience, which was up by 17,500 listeners, but ignored the fact that nationwide the network had dropped by 17,000.

Neither NZME or MediaWorks told lies but their coverage of the ratings involved dicing, slicing and no small amount of spicing. Their sole aim was to sell the meal they had created. They should label stories about ratings as ‘Sponsored Content’ or, more accurately, ‘Advertising’.

Only those outlets with no skin in the game provide accurate and balanced news stories about the ratings. A case in point is Newsroom, where its co-editor Tim Murphy provided an intelligent analysis of the latest numbers. He also attempted to put MediaWorks’ ‘new’ network Today FM in perspective by looking back over the performance of its previous incarnation, but it is really too early to make any judgement on the performance of its heavy-hitters Tova O’Brien and Duncan Garner. As the company’s Director of News and Talk, Dallas Gurney, said of the survey: “We’re not going to see any full results for Today FM until early next year.”

I hope that, when those numbers are out, we will see a straight-forward analysis of the data. I doubt that it will come from the radio network owners, who will continue to play around with the recipe.

The noose tightens

The United States Department of Justice is poised to reject concessions by Google to stave off an anti-trust suit, Bloomberg reported last Friday. It is welcome news that the noose is tightening.

Google dominates the online advertising market. It has offered to split off part of its operation into a separate subsidiary, but it would still remain owned by the parent company, Alphabet. That does not appear to have impressed the DoJ and Bloomberg quoted unnamed sources saying a suit would be lodged “within weeks”.

Google is already facing anti-trust actions at state level and is also under investigation by the European Union’s anti-trust regulators. An action by the Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton has been underway in the New York federal court since December 2020 and has been consolidated with a number of private anti-trust cases. The Federal Trade Commission also has Google in its sights.

It the actions are successful, and Google is broken up, the consequences will be massive and the changes to the digital landscape far-reaching. However, we should not expect quick fixes.

The break-up of the telco giant AT&T in the 1990s is an object lesson. First a national monopoly was replaced by regional monopolies and only after their shortcomings were revealed was a comprehensive resetting of the telecommunications market undertaken.

Whatever way the end-game plays out, it is clear that the world is tiring of digital giants who think they are bigger than any government.


To Jehan Casinader for his Sunday Star Times column “What’s happened to customer service?”

First, I loved his opening paragraphs:

In the 1970s British sitcom Are You Being Served?, a quirky bunch of department store assistants fawn over customers, helping them to pick clothes – and hoping to make a sale.

If the show was made today, the title would have to be: Serve Yourself.

He went on to detail examples of poor service in shops, online, and in the infuriating world of ‘customer service lines’.

It resonated with me and, I am certain, many thousands of people who read it. We could relate to it. That is what makes a good column.

I concede I had been pre-conditioned. Last week I severed my connection with a car dealer from whom I had bought four new cars and was about to buy a fifth. The company made me feel it was doing me a favour. I switched to another dealer who made me feel valued as a customer. That had been the missing ingredient.

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