Business case documents released under the Official Information Act today revealed the error RNZ made when it proposed changing Concert to youth-based programme.

The documents show that RNZ underestimated the ferocity of the backlash it would receive as it proceeded to shift from one strategy to the next.

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Under the risk management section of the business case, RNZ anticipated a "high" probability that there would be a negative response to the change externally but expected this to only have a "medium" impact on the plans.

Some of the risks RNZ identified in its business case. Image / File
Some of the risks RNZ identified in its business case. Image / File

Hindsight is always 20-20, but the extent of the fury from media personalities, musicians and a few notable politicians now offers a pretty clear indication of how wrong RNZ got this. Something akin to "extremely high" impact may have been more fitting, given the wave of discontent that approached RNZ.

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The public broadcaster only prepared for what it thought would eventuate, and the business case documents reveal how short these measures fell against the challenge at hand.

Under the risk mitigation section, RNZ suggests pushing the positives of the move and reminding opponents that "times are changing". Another recommendation that aged poorly includes running an op-ed from a prominent music industry personality to support the move.

Had any of these efforts actually been rolled out, it would've been the equivalent of spraying a water gun at a giant dumpster fire.

What this boils down to is classic example of a media organisation underestimating the clout of an older audience.

It's always easy to disregard the old-timers as out of touch with the changing times, but this doesn't take into account how much power they have in society at present.

And RNZ isn't the only organisation making this mistake. Research out of marketing giant WPP this week showed that fewer than 2 per cent of marketing briefs target New Zealanders 50 and older.


This is despite the fact that over-50s account for 34 per cent of the population, 59 per cent of the private wealth and have access to 49 per cent of the disposable income in New Zealand.

The most powerful demographic in NZ is being ignored

In moving against Concert, RNZ was drawing battle lines with this powerful group. And if anything, the fallout shows us that a generation that protested through the 60s and 70s still has a knack for mobilising a crowd behind a cause – albeit largely through social media these days.

It's also a reminder that metrics focusing simply on the overall number of an audience never tells the full story.

RNZ Concert may not have the biggest numbers among radio brands, but those that tune in are militantly loyal to the station. And in this case that counted more than anyone realised.