RNZ’s previous plan to reach younger people collapsed in early 2020 after opposition to RNZ Concert cuts - and pushback from commercial broadcasters. This week RNZ fired up Tahi - a more modest effort for the underserved youth audience. What’s the plan this time?
RNZ's new music platform Tahi went live last Wednesday with little fanfare - but that was by design.
Its last plan to attract younger listeners sparked intense criticism from public figures including the PM.
In February 2020 RNZ startled its listeners - and its own staff - with a radical plan to turn RNZ Concert into an automated playout service and switch its nationwide FM frequency to a new music-based network for younger listeners.
It was part of RNZ’s stretch goal to build lifelong relationships with a broader range of New Zealanders into the future.
The plan was to have music on air by August 2020 and add Auckland-based presenters and influencers to fill out a full-service network later on.
RNZ chair Jim Mather told a Parliamentary committee a news service and informative programming about life, health and culture was also part of the plan to better serve younger - and specifically Māori and Pasifika - people RNZ was not currently reaching.
RNZ Concert listeners campaigned vigorously against the plan, which would have required a change to the law.
Commercial broadcasters worried about losing listeners also called in lawyers - and even the PM urged RNZ to go back to the drawing board.
It did, and the much-more modest online-only outlet Tahi is the result.
What’s on Tahi?
A 24/7 stream of music - 40 percent of it local - is online at Tahi.fm, with content and playlists also on social platforms including TikTok, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and streaming service Spotify.
“We just wanted to make something cool for young people,” said Megan Whelan, RNZ’s head of content.
“We went through a whole process, we did research, we talked to a lot of young people,” she said.
The music is programmed by Harrison Pali who joined RNZ from music network ZM. Jodhi Hoani is the new Rangatahi, Māori and Pasifika commissioner for RNZ.
Several original podcast and video series will be ready to roll on Tahi in 2022, said Whelan.
“That will start launching and then we'll keep growing. What I really am interested in is what the audience then tells us about what they want,” she said.
That’s the tricky part - understanding the ‘underserved audience’ not already engaged with RNZ.
“We spent about a year doing research with Colmar Brunton - focus groups and that sort of thing. We listened to what they want - and we went back to them with more questions,” she said.
“Our social media team for RNZ . . . are all young Māori and Pacific and Asian New Zealanders. We've learned from the little steps that we've been making there - and we're also working with independent producers from those communities,” she said.
Other broadcasters already stream many genres of contemporary music. MediaWorks’ Rova app has Aotearoa Hip-Hop and dance music channels alongside streams of its radio broadcasting.
Last year NZME launched youth-focused service Kick on its iHeartRadio online platform with playlists and podcasts.
Otago Access Radio has its own app for local kids to listen to and contribute content.
What will RNZ’s Tahi offer which other radio companies don’t?
“First of all, it's commercial free. There should be a place on the internet where young people can go where no-one's trying to sell them anything,” she said.
“You spend time on the internet anywhere right now, you - personally - are the product: your data, and your information,” she said.
“We won’t collect any data . . . unless it’s for the purpose of personalisation later on to make it work better for people,” Whelan said.
“We've already commissioned a number of video series and podcasts that will start releasing early next year - and we are working with young creatives. There's a link on the website also which is send us ideas - so they can come to us and help that next generation of content creators do cool stuff," Whelan said.
Tuning out of radio
While ‘FM’ is part of the Tahi’s URL and its social channel names, there’s no immediate prospect of Tahi on FM radio.
That’s in spite of frequencies - 102FM - set aside by government for youth broadcasting for decades which have barely been used.
But RNZ playing ad-free contemporary music on radio is the last thing the commercial broadcasters want.
During the RNZ Concert controversy the umbrella group - the Radio Broadcasters Association - sent a lawyer’s letter claiming RNZ was acting against the interests of the radio industry and even its own charter.
“We want to make sure that things like (an RNZ youth station) not only don't go ahead, but they're not what are considered in the first place. I think there was naivety on a lot of people's part about the impact that would have had on the sector,” RBA chief Jana Rangooni told Mediawatch in September.
“Our understanding is that the 102 frequency isn't currently on the table. If it grows into radio, we're totally up for that. But we're focused on making Tahi work right now as it is,” Megan Whelan told Mediawatch.
“The research tells us it could be a radio station - and young people are still listening to radio. But also it could be a partnership with one of those platforms. Radio might be a part of that . .. but I don't know that it will ever be the biggest part of that anymore,” said Megan Whelan.
Too cool for school?
Tahi doesn’t explicitly carry the name or branding of RNZ - an echo of RNZ’s first digital youth-focused service, The Wireless. That was set up in 2013, but after five years it was folded back into RNZ’s main website.
Whelan was one of the founding team.
“It is easy to look at it in hindsight . . . (but) we never really nailed who it was for - and what it was,” Whelan told Mediawatch.
“There was music content, but it wasn't a music site - and it certainly didn't have a stream. We worked with more and more young people, but we just never really knew their audience. That's the key part - start with who the audience is,” she said.
At the moment the media was alerted that Tahi was live last Wednesday morning, it was streaming a TikTok hit by US singer Nessa Barret: I hope ur miserable until ur dead.
A message to those opposed to RNZ’s efforts to rocking a younger audience back in 2020?
No - just a coincidence, Megan Whelan assured Mediawatch.