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Relegating RNZ Concert to AM is a backward step

Better Public Media welcomes RNZ’s announcement that it is to commence a new youth-oriented radio service on its FM platform- but it is very disappointing that this will come at the expense of the FM Concert service which will be relegated to AM transmission.

RNZ argues that its public service Charter obligations require it to expand the reach of its services to a wide and diverse audience, In many respects, this is entirely desirable, especially in respect to the goal of catering to younger people and Māori and Pasifika listeners.

According to an RNZ strategy document, there are concerns about the “underperformance and operational inefficiency” of Concert and the overlap of its audience appeal with that of RNZ National.

As CEO Paul Thompson explained on Mediawatch: “If you look at the investment we put into Concert, for that relatively small unique audience, we raise the question of whether there is a more efficient and effective way of doing things”. “As we look across RNZ and think about the limited money that we have and the limited resources – how do we best deploy them to create more value for the public?”

Given that the government is now well into its third year, it is disappointing that RNZ's funding remains inadequate to address a full range of audience needs. This is a hangover from the decade of frozen funding under the previous government.

BPM calls on the Minister of Broadcasting, Media and Communications, to recognise that RNZ should not have to short-change one audience's musical preferences in order to meet those of another.

But even if the demographic of the RNZ Concert audience is smaller, whiter and older, they nevertheless represent a long-standing and loyal component of RNZ’s audience whose preferences also merit consideration. With an audience of around 70,000 this is clearly a minority of the population- but they do not deserve to have their needs deemed unworthy just because they are niche. This is the logic of a commercial, not a public service broadcaster.

RNZ maintains that they are not deleting the Concert service and that it will still be available via AM, the RNZ Freeview channel and streamed online. However, this overlooks several important considerations of the FM Concert service:

a. RNZ Concert is in many respects a flagship service which signals RNZ’s commitment to musical forms which the commercial sector is unable to provide. If the rationale for discontinuing the full service is cost, then that is an argument for increasing RNZ’s funding, not a pretext to cut the services enjoyed by one audience demographic in order to serve another.

b. The planned restructure of Concert entails a much greater focus on recorded content with a loss of 20 staff. This is therefore not a continuation of the current service on a different platform- on the contrary it suggests a hollowing out of the current programming format which will significantly alter the way in which the audience is engaged and the quality of listening experience.

c. Given that the Concert audience skews older, they are less likely to be inclined to stream music online compared with younger people and many will not welcome the option of needing to use the television to listen to radio services (not least because a radio receiver is portable and enables listening in any part of the home). Moreover, insofar as fans of classical music are more likely to appreciate music in FM stereo, the shift to AM is a very poor substitute.

BPM appreciates that RNZ has to make difficult decisions about its priorities. Although we welcome the strategy to extend the reach of RNZ’s services to currently-under-served audiences, it is deeply regrettable that this should come at the expense of its long-standing flagship service and a well-established and loyal audience.

BPM is launching an online petition on this matter - www.change.org/SaveRNZConcert


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