Radio Live is being merged with music station Magic as the broadcaster decides it can’t match the competition. In this week’s Mediaroom, Mark Jennings looks at the reasons that led to its capitulation.
Radio Live has been a problem child of MediaWorks’ highly successful radio operation from almost the day it started 13 years ago.
Set up to compete with NZME’s cash cow, Newstalk ZB, Live has never managed to do more than nibble at the edges of its rival’s audience.
Finally, MediaWorks’ CEO Michael Anderson has had enough and handed the reins to his music radio boss, Leon Wratt.
Wratt, has long had his eyes on Live’s FM Auckland frequency.
His newest music station, Magic, has been broadcasting on FM throughout the country except in Auckland and Wellington where it is on AM frequencies.
Now, Magic which is being renamed “Magic Talk”, will not be handicapped in terms of “sound “ or image in the major markets.
The merged station will continue to run the simulcast TV shows AM and Newshub at 6pm and the old Radio Live drive show.
This appears to be a compromise on Wratt’s part, but it is hard to see how Duncan Garner, Mike McRoberts and Ryan Bridge will mix with Elvis, the Bee Gees and the Everly brothers.
The hybrid of music and talk looks to be a way of easing the pain on the news department before Magic moves back to being a station aimed at male baby boomers with a penchant for easy listening formats.
And, MediaWorks probably did not want to give up completely on the $40 million dollar talk radio market dominated by Newstalk ZB.
Wratt will want to do two things.
The first is to squeeze out a little bit more share in the saturated music market, by taking some Auckland listeners off NZME’s Coast.
The second is to make the station profitable by reducing costs associated with hosts like Mark Sainsbury, Mitch Harris and the weekend sports programme’s Andrew Gourdie and Jim Kayes.
A clutch of producers will be gone unless jobs are found for them in Newshub, but that seems unlikely.
Radio Live was always a brave, and probably a necessary attempt by MediaWorks to break down the monopoly on the talk market held by Newstalk.
It has had plenty of big names firing the shots. Marcus Lush, Sean Plunket, Michael Laws, Willie Jackson, John Tamihere, Alison Mau, Karyn Hay and Duncan Garner gave it a good go, but the station couldn’t hold onto the one person who started to make a difference – Paul Henry.
Henry, gave the station momentum when he was in the drive slot and then later on AM. He was somebody the station could build around as his right wing views and cutting humour resonated with the talkback audience.
Over the years, more than one radio consultant advised the company that its line-up was too left leaning or centrist when compared to ZB’s Paul Holmes, Mike Hosking, Leighton Smith and Larry Williams.
It might be overstating it to say talkback’s main consumers are rednecks, but ZB has certainly had success with its consistent conservative focus.
Since Henry’s departure two years ago, Live has essentially been on life support.
If, or when, Magic Talk moves to a full music format it will also make a potential sale of Mediaworks’ radio arm a lot easier.
Radio Live has been heavily dependent on Newshub which sits within the television operation. The linkages would’ve been hard to undo and this made the radio business less attractive to a buyer.
A clean sale of the highly profitable radio business looks increasingly like it is Oaktree’s (MediaWorks’ US owner) exit strategy.
It would then be a case of what to do with Newshub and the loss-making TV stations, Three and Bravo.
The current Government will not want to see them closed as it would seriously impact the local television production industry and news media diversity, but it is hard to see where a willing buyer is going to emerge from.
The latest digital news audience figures show nzherald.co.nz making a comeback in October, registering 1.75 million unique readers to Stuff.co.nz’s 1.9 million, closing the gap on the market leader to around 150,000 for the first time in months.
Stuff remains clearly the biggest news site in the country, and the Herald needed an uptick in audience after drifting this year since nudging the 2 million mark. Its increase in October from September’s 1.56 million will have cheered executives who are about to close off some of the site’s content behind a Premium Content paywall.
Herald owner NZME has promised to have the “capability” to introduce the paywall by the end of the year but no announcement has been made on a subscription offer or when the first readers will actually be charged to read the premium content. Market research by the company tested readers’ reactions to paying between $3 and $7 a month, and the NZME chief executive has set a target of between 4 and 6 percent of nzherald.co.nz’s readership taking up the subscription offer.