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Where are the audiences?

New research commissioned by NZ On Air showed that, despite the myriad options available, the bulk of NZ content consumption is still done in the same way it has been done for many a year, by surfing the sofa.

The research was launched in Auckland this morning to an audience of broadcasters and other media. NZ On Air’s Jane Wrightson and Colmar Brunton’s Jeremy Todd did the honours. Introducing the results, Wrightson noted that the information would assist NZ On Air to continue to do what it had always done – to put the bulk of money and effort into the places where the bulk of audiences were.

The benchmark data takes NZ’s first serious stab at single-source measurement of online viewing and listening habits. As it’s the first time such data has been has been captured, there are no easy comparisons with other data – domestic or international – and trends or developments can’t easily be extrapolated from it.

However, some things were clear. That I Heart Radio has grown from zip to take a 5% of online listeners in less than a year is pretty damn impressive, and a feat Laila Harre will be praying she can replicate later this year.

One of the surprises in the data captured was that (whatever Nigel Latta says) kids aren’t so different from the rest of us as many might have assumed – at least when it comes to consuming media. Yes, they’re less likely to be found in front of the box and more likely to consume more content online than granny is – but it seems that changes in viewing habits are a story of “evolution not revolution”.

Despite all the noise on Facebook and Twitter the numbers don’t support claims of imminent demise of TV scheduling as the main driver of content consumption. And, despite impressive growth numbers, strong growth should be expected from a very small base.

For those prepared to take the long view, it will be interesting to look back in 20 years’ time and see what’s changed.

Will the kids of today grow up to become their parents, learn to love couch-surfing and the familiarity of the TV schedule? Or will they still be hunting for the next new platform by the time they’ve got teens of their own? Is technology driving a sea-change in viewing behaviour or is it simply enabling kids to be different in a different way?

And, for all the claims of webseries being the way of the future, it was sobering to discover in the NZ On Air data that the general population’s awareness of them was – as nearest as makes no difference – non-existent.

There was strong awareness of the online series Auckland Daze and Reservoir Hill (both of which had received TV outings before the research was done), and their online reach was measured at 5% and 2% respectively. Three more recent but fairly high profile webseries, High Road, The Factory Story and Flat 3 achieved a combined awareness of 5% and reach of 0%.

The conclusion drawn from this data was a case of stating the obvious: that webseries benefit from being on a strong online platform, such as a broadcaster’s Ondemand site. It was, therefore, rather ironic to (over)hear after the presentation a “build it and they will come” pitch for a new webseries platform – especially since that approach doesn’t seem to be working too well for NZ’s Webseries Channel, which hosts all three of High Road, The Factory Story and Flat 3 among its collection. (Despite its limited success, you should absolutely check it out, as there’s heaps of great local content.)

Like it or not, the bulk of the nation’s viewing is still done in front of a TV at the time the broadcasters say it should be done. That covers the number of people consuming content and the amount of time they spend doing it. Slice and dice the numbers by various demographic filters and that remains true for all age groups and ethnicities except one: Asian viewers, who consume as much content online as they do via a broadcast schedule.

There is too much data to digest in short order, so there’ll be more to come on this subject later in the week. The full NZ On Air report “Where are the audiences?” is here.

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