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MediaRoom: Ratings can save, or they can kill

Radio New Zealand had a mixed week with an over-promising Government under-delivering on Wednesday on its funding for the public broadcaster - then the latest radio ratings on Thursday showing strong gains for RNZ across the board.

Even the runt of the family, RNZ Concert, went up in the latest GfK ratings survey adding 32,700 listeners or more than 20 percent since the previous round in April to 178,500.

The flagship RNZ National, which fell by 17,000 in the year to April, rebounded with a 36,900 increase in audience in the year to June and with its new total of 606,3400 listeners across the week claimed the second-highest listenership in the market, after The Edge on 640,000. RNZ National leapfrogged The Breeze (551,000) and headed off More FM (566,000) and Newstalk ZB (505,000).

That last comparison will be one treasured at RNZ headquarters - to put a lead of 100,000 weekly listeners on the talk-news commercial juggernaut of NewstalkZB is quite an achievement.

The individual shows were strong for National as well.

Morning Report increased its audience by 32,700 from 424,400 to 457,100 - giving it a total again almost 100,000 higher than the Mike Hosking Breakfast on ZB, which in the commercial radio ratings released last week had 359,000 listeners nationwide.

RNZ National's other daytime shows also added between 20,000 and 33,000 listeners each.

Its second most popular slot was the drivetime combination of Jim Mora's Panel and John Campbell's Checkpoint, which had an average of 356,500 listeners, up 24,000. That was better than all the big music stations (The Edge drivetime was 306,000) and substantially bigger than Newstalk's Larry Williams on just 212,000.

The RNZ rating strength is both a blessing and a curse for its leadership as they seek greater funding from the Government.

On one level, its success will be used by commercial broadcasters and other media to argue RNZ's extra funding will add to its dominance over those who need to run commercials to make a buck. On the other, both RNZ's board and chief executive Paul Thompson and the Broadcasting Minister Clare Curran will see the increasing demand for its content as an endorsement for whatever extra dollars end up with RNZ.

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The announcement of the allocation of this year's extra funding for public broadcasting was fraught for the Government because it had raised expectations too high while in Opposition.

First there was the $38 million extra promised for public broadcasting (including RNZ and NZ on Air) which shrunk to an initial $15 million in the Budget and now the actual RNZ direct budget increase of just $4.5 million.

Curran argues a further $6 million committed to fund content for RNZ should be considered as part of its total funding lift - despite it not being RNZ's to spend. It will go to outside producers who will make shows for RNZ to run, after an NZ on Air-style contestable process. That is not without benefit to Thompson, who might not need to fund other content currently used to fill broadcast spots.

And a lazy half a million dollars will be spent on more scheming. Curran announced: "$500,000 will also be used to fund research into how Crown-funded media agencies can use their assets more efficiently and to work out the level of funding required for an effective public media well into the future." 

The new RNZ chair, Jim Mather, took a glass half full approach: "This year's increase is a good start which recognises the transformation of RNZ into a modern, multi-platform digital media organisation is underway."

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Friday night's latest attempt at cool current affairs, The Spinoff TV, has seen its audience settle to about half its opening night three weeks ago. Last week's number was 35,400 for the TV3 target audience of 25-54 year-olds, down from 71,000 at launch. Strangely its total in the 5+ demographic was less elastic, starting at 113,000 and drifting to 65,000 for episode two and 79,000 for the third week. That is either a whole lot of people aged under 25 watching, which would be explicable, or a whole lot over 54 which for this show, would not.

One surprise in the ratings for week three was that the re-run of highlights from Heartbreak Island on TV2 edged ahead of The Spinoff TV, scoring 39,800 viewers (25-54). It had attracted just 11,900 on the Spinoff launch night.

A fourth episode of the Spinoff screened last night - after the acclaimed comedy show 7 Days.

New shows often peak early, sag and build up over the course of a season. The Spinoff TV should have 12 more shows to come, all things being equal with its $700,000 public funder NZ on Air and with TV3’s programming executives.

An exacting, stringent, thumbs-down review of the programme in the New Zealand Herald yesterday recognised one unusual aspect to The Spinoff TV's first weeks. Until that very review the show had provoked neither criticism nor endorsement among news media or on social media. It may not need so much to silence its critics as shake up and provoke the silenced.

That timely, searing review might be just what the the spin doctor ordered. The ratings for Friday night will have soared.

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The National Business Review, which has been in the news for many of the wrong reasons this year, is about to launch a new version of its paywalled website. 

NBR has had high-profile fallouts with columnists Sir Bob Jones and Matthew Hooton, and has counted media columnist David Cohen, chief radio interviewer Andrew Patterson, television presenters Simon Dallow and Susan Wood, and news editor Nick Grant among 'the disappeared' in 2018.

The publisher, Todd Scott, has given editorial directions and threatened legal actions on Twitter, castigated competitors including the New Zealand Herald and others with florid language, and engaged in various personal feuds and confessionals on the social medium that have been noted by some worried folk in the business community.  

He wondered aloud in one tweet whether the BusinessDesk news agency - which he dumped unceremoniously and acrimoniously,  withholding a final payment - or this site Newsroom would survive past the end of the year. That sounded a bit like projection of his own title's woes.

But Scott has pushed on with the new version of the site and tweeted he is "so excited for you to use and experience our new website next week". The NBR's biggest single earner, its annual Rich List is also out "VERY soon" according to its tweeter-in-chief.

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