The CEO of Radio New Zealand, Paul Thompson, got the CBA Conference off to a sobering but also inspiring start with a presentation on the decline of radio and the opportunities of digital disruption.
Thompson set out the current situation in New Zealand, a country of 4.4m, where Radio NZ is the major radio broadcaster, and the only non-commercial public service media organisation. But he said: “our first challenge we face is dealing with the problem of our success.”
He said that the broadcaster is a highly trusted news source and its programmes top ratings in their slots, but “we are weak, almost irrelevant on the web… and as a radio broadcaster, we lack visual and digital storytelling skills.”
Thompson told the conference that the radio market in NZ had declined 17 per cent in 13 years, and there was a need to adapt to a different business model. Up until recently he said, radio listeners were being traditionally prioritised at the expense of online engagement.
Death of mediocrity
“The very term broadcasting hints at our vulnerability,” he said, citing historic control of infrastructure such as transmitters, but now “the means of distribution will be controlled by the internet, which no-one owns.”
But he heralded the disruption as bringing about “the death of mediocrity” – where audiences will vote with their feet if content does not meet their needs or standards.
Radio NZ was responding to the changing broadcasting environment with such initiatives as The Wireless, a website launched last year to provide multimedia content for a younger audience. But
Thompson stressed that this would be not be at the expense of its role as a traditional broadcaster: “In fact I want us to do radio better.”
This would mean, he said, continuing to refresh radio content and programming, and creating new radio content. He also emphasised the importance of engaging every one of his 300 staff, to be the drivers of the process for Radio NZ to evolve into an audience-led broadcaster.
Thompson has set out aims for the organisation to double its current audience to reach one million a week in a decade’s time.
“The future of content delivery is multimedia, multiplatform, personalised, mobile and social,” he continued. “To stay relevant and continue our mission of serving the public, and to maintain and grow our audience, we must become, and are becoming, a multimedia organisation.”
Paul Thompson took over stewardship of Radio New Zealand in September last year, after a 30-year career in newspaper journalism.