Media

MediaRoom: Beyond the headlines

In our new column MediaRoom, Tim Murphy looks at what's happening beyond the headlines in the news industry

Former MediaWorks chief executive Sussan Turner popped up on the board of media company NZME this week - six weeks after her term as a director of TVNZ ended quietly with no reappointment by the Labour-led government.

Turner was a one-termer on the board of the state broadcaster. Her departure on April 30 was not announced and the Minister of Broadcasting Clare Curran is yet to appoint a replacement. 

Her expertise in radio at MediaWorks will be of value for NZME, which owns the other half of the commercial radio market, and struggles in the music brands against the dominant MediaWorks stations.

Turner was considered close to former National Minister of Finance and Tertiary Education Steven Joyce and as well as the TVNZ board role took up a public appointment to the Auckland University of Technology council under the last government.

She will be the fifth and final director for NZME, which has been building a board since listing two years ago in what was then to be a precursor to a new merged company with Fairfax NZ/Stuff.  That merger did not win approval from the Commerce Commission or the High Court but the companies now await the result of a challenge heard this month before the Court of Appeal.

Turner, chief executive of private education company Aspire2, joins former ASB chief executive Barbara Chapman, accountant Carol Campbell, investment banker David Gibson and chair and former ad man Peter Cullinane on the NZME board.

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Quarterly newspaper circulation figures released on Thursday show many of the country's papers shedding sales at around 10 percent or more in the past year, compounding years of falls.

The two best performing titles in the country for minimising the decline in sales were both from the south - the Otago Daily Times dropping just three percent and the Ashburton Guardian by 3.3 percent.

Stuff Ltd, which owns two of the country's Sunday papers and the Dominion Post in Wellington, The Press in Christchurch and Waikato Times in Hamilton, led the downward drift. The DomPost was off by 10 percent in the year to March, the ABC figures showed, to 45,733 copies on average each day. Its Christchurch stablemate was off 9.5 percent to 46,441 and the Waikato Times by 12.6 percent to 17,755.

Of regional papers, Stuff's titles in Manawatu, Taranaki, Nelson, Timaru and  Southland were all down by between 11 and 13 percent - a far steeper fall than newspapers owned by rival company NZME, which saw its Hawke's Bay and Northland papers decline at much lower rates than the industry average.

Stuff Ltd is proudly digital first - using its Stuff website and an audience of more than 2.1 million unique readers a month to expand into other digital products and ventures. It clearly is not fighting as hard corporately to prop up its newspaper sales.

NZME's flagship New Zealand Herald contained its circulation drop to six percent year-on-year but its average daily sales are now an anaemic 113,752 from 121,059 last March. Within its total audited net circulation the Herald has 'directed circulation' or free or promotional copies totalling 6566 a day, far higher proportionately than the DomPost at 563 or The Press at 243.

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On the same day the circulation figures for physical sales of the papers are released, publishers also make public the Nielsen readership numbers. These are for the total number of individuals reading titles, not the number paying for a copy.

There has always been a big gap between the two sets of figures and now publishers also cite their 'total brand audience' including digital readers and total company audience which can include radio audiences as well. For example NZME claim a daily brand audience for the Herald in print and online of more than one million and the company cites an audience of 3.2 million New Zealanders from a "fused" database for last year "read, watch, listen or otherwise engage with our brands".

Take your pick.

The Herald had a good Nielsen survey to March 31 - its average issue readership was up by eight percent to 459,000 from a year ago. But print readership numbers, too, are considerably lower than past years. In 2008, the Herald had an average issue readership of 585,000 and in 2013, that number was 539,000. In early 2017 the Herald's number had fallen to just over 400,000 so this week's result is a comeback.

With the current Herald Audit Bureau of Circulation figure (above) at 113,000 for the March 2018 year, the latest Nielsen total of 459,000 translates to four readers for every paid copy.

The Herald on Sunday has a Nielsen readership of 349,000 and an ABC sales figure of 82,373 - meaning each copy on a Sunday is read by 4.2 people as well.

Nielsen does not routinely release its readership data publicly. Stuff Ltd did not appear to issue readership numbers by separate newspaper.

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And the market measure for news website audiences, also conducted by Nielsen, came out last Friday, June 15.

Stuff.co.nz is number one, with 2.1 million unique readers in the month of May. Its lead over nzherald.co.nz, which had 1.82 million uniques, increased to 192,000 readers. The pair came close to crossing over in the middle of last year, after years of striving by the Herald for the top spot, but since the nzherald.co.nz redesign in June, Stuff has maintained a healthy lead. 

Newshub is in third (857,000), then TVNZ (826k), RNZ (467k), the Otago Daily Times (216k), Spinoff (180k), Interest.co.nz (81k), Newsroom (70k) and Noted (54k). Nielsen warns that the sample sizes for this site (Newsroom) and for Noted are still too small to provide a reliable number. (In April, both had been around the 100,000 mark.)

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