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What does it all mean?

The second NZ On Air report, Where Are The Audiences, arriving two years after the 2014 benchmarking survey, offers up great swathes of data about how, when and where Kiwis consume content.

At yesterday’s presentation of the report in Auckland, most of the interest was in the numbers making big changes over the last two years and some of the data now included that wasn’t surveyed in the 2014 edition, eg use of NZ SVOD services such as Lightbox or the local version of Netflix.

Jeremy Todd, who did the original 2014 survey, also conducted the 2016 survey, and presented some of the key findings. It was clear that “steady as she goes” is a phrase that has no place in describing content consumption in NZ.

The biggest changes or trends that the report identified were:

  • the main free-to-air broadcast channels remain the provider of the biggest audiences – but the overall audience for linear TV continues to diminish
  • much of the audience for linear broadcast TV channels is not those channels’ preferred demographic, and is increasingly dominated by coffin dodgers
  • in whatever way (and there are many) more of us are spending more time watching content online

While there’s plenty to chew on from a consumer and advertiser perspective, some of the headline numbers and crystal ball gazing the numbers inspire don’t deliver the same messages for broadcasters, funders and content creators.

What is apparent from the numbers is that the changes happening will continue (not necessarily in such a dramatic way as in the last two years in some cases) and that there does need to be accommodation made by all sectors of the industry to take advantage of those changes, or to avoid the disadvantages from them.

Where Are The TV Audiences Going?
Elsewhere, to put it bluntly.

The good news is that he largest available audience is still the one that flops out on the sofa of an evening in front of the TV. However, there’s nothing encouraging about the trends the report identified.

Numbers for all users of all “traditional media” were down; the weekly reach of TV dropping to 86% of the population. (That’s an interesting number in itself as, elsewhere, the report notes only 84% of the population have access to a working TV.)

TV One, the channel with the largest audience, now reaches 40% of the population daily – a drop from 48% two years ago.

Numbers for all types of online media viewing were up, dramatically in some categories. The “channel” with the second largest daily reach in NZ is now a tie, between TV3 and YouTube. More 15–34 year olds stream online video each day than watch linear TV.

While NZ On Air funding for TV programming now requires that it’s made available on two platforms (usually a broadcaster channel and the broadcaster’s VOD service) it does seem that free-to-air broadcasters seem to put a lot of energy into rearranging the deckchairs on the Titanic.

It has been clear for some time that younger viewers TV channels find it hard to attract spend a lot of time on YouTube and Facebook. What’s the extent of TVNZ and MediaWorks’ attempts to engage with audiences via those channels and promote their TV or ondemand content there? It’s not great – the TVNZ homepage doesn’t even include links to social media channels.


Big Is Good?
From an advertiser perspective, it is. However for NZ On Air, whose remit is “to support local content and provide audiences with diversity and choice”, big is not always good. Indeed, the agency has often targeted its digital media fund calls to commission content that will reach niche audiences and provide that diversity and choice of content.

The largest numbers of people who form parts of niche audiences (eg teens, people with disabilities, specific ethnic groups) are found in the places where the largest audiences are – the linear broadcast channels. However, that’s not the same thing as saying that they’re going there to have their specific needs met in those places. Just because a lot of Pacific Islanders might watch TV2 at a particular time on a Friday doesn’t mean the broadcaster will commission content targeting that audience for that slot.

One thing that the report doesn’t do, except for a specific section on NZ webseries, is differentiate between what types of content people are consuming, or where that content is from.

From a funding strategy perspective, it’s not much help to know that 40% of Māori watch TV3 every day if it turns out they’re all watching the news, NCIS and The Block but no NZOA-supported programming. Funding a programme for Māori might deliver a larger Māori audience, even though the channel reaches a smaller number of Māori than TV3 does.

A third of 15-24 year olds watch TV2 every day, but if they just tune in to watch Shortland Street, that doesn’t help drive funding strategy either (unless you’re TV3 and hoping to revive NZOA interest in Trinity Point).

There’s also a challenge to face in that in a small market like NZ, there’s a lot less choice than you’d find in many other places anyway. As Telecom, Sky and – back in the day – TVNZ have demonstrated, monopolies and dominant players have a track record of Canute-like approach to the tides of technological advance.


Where next?
One thing that is very clear from the report is a generational divide in viewing behaviour. In broad terms, coffin dodgers stick with TV(One), kids go online. With the platforms now available, that isn’t going to change, even if the behaviour of those kids changes to accommodate more TV as they get older. Four years from now, 80% of NZers will be able to access UFB. As far as content consumption is concerned, that’s only going to encourage even more viewers to use online options.

Free-to-air isn’t dead, but it’s going to have to get used to being second choice and work harder to attract and retain audiences. Broadcasters could help themselves by doing more and better with their ondemand platforms and social media channels.

One in two people look online for additional and/or supporting material for shows they’ve watched on TV at least once a month. However, a lot less of them are looking on the broadcaster’s site than they were two years ago. Considering that almost a third of viewers have access to a smart TV, that’s a missed opportunity.

NZ On Air has been working with the survey data for a little while as it considers changes to how best to support content going forward.

“NZ audience behaviour is changing, and so are we. We will be announcing changes to the way we approach our funding investments later this year that will make us more flexible and responsive to the ongoing change,” NZOA CEO Jane Wrightson said.

The full report is available at nzonair.govt.nz/research.

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