The great New Zealand pastime of watching scheduled, linear television in the evening is officially over, with new research revealing Kiwis’ rapidly changing viewing habits.
Instead, more New Zealanders, with the power of choice at their fingertips – using a smartphone or through their laptops, tablets or TV screens – are now watching on-demand video or subscription television shows, such as Netflix, each night.
“Linear TV no longer attracts the biggest audience during the traditional peak time of 6pm-10.30pm,” says the NZ on Air Where are the Audiences? research, released today.
In less than a decade, access to a working TV has also fallen dramatically – from 93 per cent of survey respondents in 2014 to 69 per cent today, highlighting the reliance on other devices and platforms. Eighty-three per cent of us have access to a smartphone.
The Where are the Audiences? research, now in its ninth year, confirms the relentless rise of digital media and a blurring of generational lines.
While youth audiences have always been digitally-minded, that trend now extends to older age groups.
“All digital media show audience growth after a pause in 2021 potentially related to lockdown,” says the research.
“There is now a clear gap between the daily audiences watching overseas online video and SVOD (subscription video on demand) and TV audiences. The daily reach of streamed music has also overtaken radio listening.
“2023 also represents the crossover point when New Zealanders overall start to spend more time using digital media than traditional media.”
Online video includes international giants such as YouTube and Facebook. SVOD includes the likes of Netflix, Disney+ and Amazon Prime.
Stripped down to individual entertainment platforms – 1408 survey respondents were asked the question ‘Which of the following did you use yesterday?’ – the most popular are YouTube video (44 per cent), Netflix (42 per cent), Facebook video (36 per cent), TVNZ 1 (34 per cent) and Spotify (33 per cent).
While at first glance all of that might sound gloomy for the likes of TVNZ, the state broadcaster will take great heart in the performance of TVNZ+.
The on-demand platform, regularly considered world-class in terms of its content and usability, has helped fill the void caused by a big drop in traditional television viewing, according to the research.
“On-demand shows the strongest acceleration of audience growth of any media since 2021,” says the survey – up from 23 per cent daily reach in 2021 to 35 per cent in 2023.
“It now attracts the fourth biggest audience between 6-8.30pm and is now mainly used as a primary source of content rather than a catch-up service.”
TVNZ+ has been largely responsible for the growth in that category.
“TVNZ+ dominates daily on-demand viewing among New Zealanders and it has significantly grown its audience from 17 per cent daily reach in 2021 to more than one in four New Zealanders in 2023 (27 per cent),” says the research.
In fact, if all TVNZ content (linear and on-demand) is aggregated, the broadcaster is still ahead of the likes of YouTube and Netflix – just.
NZ on Air chief executive Cameron Harland said TVNZ had clearly invested significantly in its on-demand channel.
“You can see the local platforms embracing digital and growing audiences by combining the two options, which I think is actually quite exciting for the local market.
“TVNZ would be feeling pretty good about the data, but if we take a step back and ignore the brands per se and see the trends, what you’re seeing is a fight back from the local platforms by acknowledging that digital is where they need to be.”
The research does indeed highlight why every single major New Zealand media business is undergoing digital transformation – from restructuring teams to focus on a digital-first approach; to new partnerships; to upgrading audience platforms and user experiences.
Harland praised the effort of local media firms, which he said were being run by a group of “impressive” CEOs and leaders.
“They all have their finger on the pulse of their businesses. This stuff takes a lot of investment and time.”
Organisations had to run two bespoke businesses.
“You’re talking about running your traditional, [what] you might call twilight businesses and milking them for as much as you can, whilst also growing your digital offer. And let’s not forget the fact that when you move into the digital space, you’ve got some really, really big international competitors.”
For NZ on Air, the research confirms a trend of the past several years.
Once upon a time, the funding agency might support content taking into account a peak audience time.
“The truth of the matter is there probably isn’t necessarily a massive peak time anymore. People are making the decisions as to when they want to view things,” says Harland.
He highlights his own habits, citing an evening recently when he watched Taskmaster NZ on linear television, then an episode of Far North on Three Now, and then a YouTube video, following the recommendation of his 17-year-old son.
Harland said the future of media was “clearly now on digital platforms”.
“Audiences on demand are growing. Our investment strategy recognises this and we’ve seen some excellent successes already this year with premium drama rolled out on linear and on-demand concurrently, giving audiences greater access to content how and when they want it,” he said.
That includes big investment in dramas such as The Gone on TVNZ platforms and Far North on Three’s platforms.
“We are seeing our local broadcasters all growing their digital offerings but another challenge is connecting local audiences with the excellent content being created for them. Our funding decisions must continue to be informed by robust data insights and audience research and the content must be comprehensively promoted so audiences know where to find it.”
There are effectively three generations of audience, says the research – 15-39-year-olds, 40-59-year-olds and the 60-plus age group.
“For most media, there is a younger generation among whom digital media dominates, a middle-aged audience more divided between traditional and digital media, and a much older audience among whom traditional media is still most popular. The age brackets defining these generations are also similar to 2021.
“However it is clear in 2023 that the older generation is now adopting digital media in far greater numbers, and for the first time we are also seeing this older group significantly decreasing their use of traditional media.
“In addition, the middle-aged group is currently at the cross-over point where digital media is overtaking traditional media.
“Both these trends mean that the generation gap is diminishing.”
Away from entertainment, the top three most regularly used news sources are Stuff (48 per cent), TVNZ (45 per cent) and the NZ Herald (35 per cent). Social media posts from news sites such as the Herald and TVNZ (Stuff has not used Facebook for six months) are next, on 34 per cent.
TVNZ is the most trusted news platform (21 per cent of respondents called it their most trusted source), followed by Stuff (13 per cent), the NZ Herald (11 per cent) and then Newshub and RNZ (both 9 per cent).
The research says there has been little change in audiences watching online video on New Zealand-based sites, with the Herald and Stuff reaching about one in 10 New Zealanders each day.
Spotify is the main source of podcasts (8 per cent) followed by social media (5 per cent), friends and family (5 per cent), internet search (4 per cent) and then NZ Herald, RNZ, and Apple (all 2 per cent).
When respondents were asked which radio stations they listened to yesterday, 8 per cent said RNZ, 7 per cent said Newstalk ZB, 6 per cent said More FM and 5 per cent said The Breeze. There were four stations after that on 4 per cent – ZM, The Edge, Coast and The Hits.
Harland said the research would complement other audience measurements in the marketplace, including Nielsen ratings for news websites and newspaper readership, and GFK ratings for radio.
Nielsen has Stuff and the Herald way out in front as online news providers. GFK has ZB well ahead in radio ratings, with The Breeze the top music station.
- Editor-at-Large Shayne Currie is one of New Zealand’s most experienced senior journalists and media leaders. He has held executive and senior editorial roles at NZME including Managing Editor, NZ Herald Editor and Herald on Sunday Editor and has a small shareholding in NZME.