10 Mar 2020

Business plan predicted 'high chance of negative response' to RNZ Concert changes

From Mediawatch, 10:38 pm on 10 March 2020

Documents released under the Official Information Act by RNZ on Tuesday revealed more about its plans for controversial changes to its music services which prompted a big public and political backlash.​

Crowds gather at Parliament to celebrate RNZ Concert.

Crowds gather at Parliament to celebrate RNZ Concert. Photo: RNZ / Jonathan Mitchell

The original proposal was to reduce RNZ Concert to a 24/7 automated network that may no longer be broadcast on radio, and to lay off music staff to free up its FM radio frequencies and resources for a new music-based service for younger people. 

This would have been funded from RNZ’s existing budgets.  

But the RNZ Concert cuts were abandoned after the backlash which prompted a government commitment to support the new youth service and provide FM frequencies for it. 

The five documents include:  

* a proposal presented to the RNZ board in October last year including a timeline for a ‘Project Apollo’ to launch in May 2020.

* a business plan written in December 2019 after the board’s initial approval.

* a strategy paper and a consultation document for RNZ music staff which kicked off the controversy last month. 

Broadly they confirm what’s already been reported and debated in public. 

RNZ’s top brass reckoned RNZ Concert underperforms because it delivers just under 70,000 listeners who don’t already engage with RNZ National - and it attracts older predominantly Pākehā people it considers already well served by RNZ.  

“This is a lost opportunity to use one of our two radio assets to reach new and different audiences (and) a very poor audience return on investment in RNZ Concert," said the October 2019 presentation called The Music Opportunity. 

In 2019, RNZ set a new goal of reaching “1 in 2 New Zealanders by 2023 by creating a lifelong relationship with all the people of Aotearoa.” 

The proposal to the RNZ board says the goal could only be achieved by “attracting completely new and different sectors of the New Zealand population” with a music-based offering. 

RNZ believed if the proposed new youth service took over RNZ Concert’s FM frequencies it could deliver “the same audience size but different composition”.

“RNZ MUSIC v2.0” could add “130,000 to RNZ reach from radio potential for another 130,000 on other digital and social platforms from a potential audience of 1.6 million”, said the business plan presented last December.  

The plan estimates two-thirds of them would be under 30 years old, just three per cent over 60 - and 28% would be “Māori or Pacific”. 

The vision is for RNZ to be as strong in music and with younger New Zealanders, especially Māori and Pacific Islanders, as we are in News and with older Pākehā audiences. This will be done by re-directing funding and resources currently allocated to RNZ Concert, which shares 60% of its audience with RNZ National, to a completely new music service, targeted at completely new and different audiences.

  • RNZ Business Case, December 2019

However, projected estimates for the FM audience (classed as “pessimistic,” “optimistic,” and  “conservative”) have been redacted from the documents under section 9 of the Official Information Act.   

The initial proposal appeared to float the idea of taking RNZ Concert off the airwaves altogether.

“Use of the AM Network on non-Parliamentary-sitting days is also a possibility but not yet confirmed,” it said.  

Estimates of the cost of redundancies of up to 18 staff, restructuring and re-purposing studios are also redacted in the public version of the plan. 

Did RNZ foresee the backlash? 

The business plan written in December includes a section on risks to the plan.

It anticipates a possible “campaign against the proposal from commercial media”, but no specific reference to a potential political backlash.

It notes a high risk of “negative response to change externally” among “audience and stakeholders” – but predicts only “medium” impact (meaning possible delay or disruption to the plan but not failure).

The plan listed the following priorities: clarity of communication regarding alternative listening methods for Concert, early engagement with current stakeholders," and a communication plan to “promote the positive outcomes.” 

It notes the risk of “disruption, morale” as “high” with the likely impact on the project rated “medium”.  Staff change management would require a “well planned and fair change process with staff” and clear and regular communication from CEO and project team,” it said.

“Timing, coordination and consistency around communications and messaging will be critical. RNZ spokespeople will need to be identified and allocated to specific stakeholder groups,” said RNZ's  business plan.

It noted the need to “ensure [the] Minister is briefed in case of early leak."

In February, Broadcasting Minister Kris Faafoi met with RNZ's chief executive Paul Thompson and board members earlier, asking them to hold off making any decisions until further work had been done on alternatives.

After the Prime Minister subsequently expressed "frustration," over taking Concert off FM, Paul Thompson said there had been "a glitch in the communications."

After the reversal of the RNZ Concert plan, Finance Minister Grant Robertson - a shareholding minister in RNZ - told a protest at Parliament the decision was “wrongheaded.”

RNZ's business plan also refers to “proactive use of music industry personalities who support the proposal,” and the possibility of “an op-ed from a prominent music industry personality.”

No prominent music industry figures have publicly backed the project on RNZ's behalf so far.

The sound  - and look - of RNZ Music 2.0 

Beats 1's Julie Adenuga, Ebro Darden and Zane Lowe

Beats 1's Julie Adenuga, Ebro Darden and Zane Lowe Photo: Apple Music

The music strategy and proposal documents also reveal details of the new youth service’s approach. 

It specifies New Zealand “composition and performance” will make up 33 per cent of the output.  

“The level of local NZ music played on RNZ Concert is very low . . . for a publicly funded broadcaster, let alone one with the Charter obligations of RNZ to reflect NZ’s cultural identity,” the same document notes by way of comparison. 

The proposal said ‘RNZ Music v2.0’ will draw heavily on “content curated by influencer talent that RNZ will source from within the diverse target audience.”

“On-Air Talent are no longer just radio announcers. They are musicians, comedians and social media content creators,” it said. 

"Those new roles would be based in Auckland because that is the biggest market and takes advantage of Auckland being the centre for music and entertainment in New Zealand. Auckland is also where the largest numbers of the new brand’s primary target are concentrated," said the proposal.

It cited US music radio personality Ebro Darden as a “best practice” example. He hosts a popular radio show in New York, but curates and distributes his own content on social media too.  

“RNZ Music playlists on Spotify Apple Music and other streaming services extend brand reach and offer further artist partnership opportunities," the proposal added.  

More than music? 

In the midst of the backlash over RNZ Concert, RNZ’s top brass had its annual review before the Economic Development, Science and Innovation Committee at Parliament last month. 

“Our vision remains to create a multi-media platform primarily for young New Zealanders,” RNZ chair Dr Jim Mather told the Committee.  

He said it would also include “commissioned programming content for young people that will explore topics relevant to them, such as civic, financial, lifestyle and well-being issues” and “trusted news made by and for younger audiences.” 

But there are no details of this content in the documents released today, save for a line in a preliminary planning document which says RNZ’s Head of News will “develop a news proposition for (the) new service.”