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What’s next for BARB

5 April 2018

This article by Justin Sampson, our Chief Executive, was first published in Mediatel on 5th April 2018.

Last year the IPA and ISBA published a call to action for more accountable media audience data. It highlighted that the principles underpinning BARB and other joint industry currencies are the best-in-class way to meet this need.

Like any currency provider, BARB has a responsibility to build and maintain trust. We take this responsibility as seriously today as at any time since our launch in 1981.

BARB is committed to providing an audience measurement service that’s relevant in this fast-changing world. This is why we’re delivering techniques to report audiences for online TV programmes and commercials, on-demand programmes and dynamically-served advertising.

We have to embrace a number of dualities as we push forward. The industry wants us to innovate while maintaining a stable currency. Hybrid measurement requires both high-quality people data and also trusted data from devices used to watch television. And the industry wants us to be fast and right; despite our best intentions, we can’t always be both and being right is paramount.

We have just confirmed that the next stage of our hybrid measurement system, Project Dovetail, is due to be delivered in September.

This builds on a successful beta phase that’s delivered data on the number of tablet, PC and smartphone devices being used to watch online TV programmes, both on-demand and live streaming. From this September, we will start to report the number of people watching programmes across four screens.

Having delivered this, the next priority for Project Dovetail will be to deliver an equivalent measure for viewing online TV commercials; this will mean the industry can assess the total reach and frequency of advertising campaigns across multiple screens. We have had to take some time to ensure the technique for generating tags from commercials does not lead to TV player apps being rejected by app stores, while also ensuring the implementation of tags is automated.

BARB has established new industry standards for the collecting and reporting of online TV audience data so we can deliver Project Dovetail. We’ve also started reporting TV set audiences for on-demand programmes that haven’t featured in a linear schedule.

And for nearly five years, we were the only television audience measurement currency in the world to provide transparency on new commercial formats that rely on the dynamic insertion of ads. We’ve been reporting use of Sky Adsmart since the beginning of 2013 and are now actively planning to report other similar services.

We have also been asked whether our data collection and reporting techniques can be applied to forms of AV content that differ significantly from broadcast media channels. These online video services, such as Facebook and YouTube, are distributed solely through the internet and primarily to smartphones. Content is more likely to be short-form and user-generated, and isn’t covered by broadcast regulations that ensure brand safe environments.

BARB has completed an industry consultation process in response to this question.

We commissioned Work Research to interview a wide range of advertisers, agencies, broadcasters and online platforms. The advertisers that participated are reported to have spent £1bn on advertising across all media in 2017, of which 55% was on television. The agencies are reported to have had total billings of £4.5bn last year; coincidentally, 55% of this was on television.

Two points emerged very clearly.

The first is that the joint industry currency principles that underpin BARB should not be weakened or compromised in any way. Independence, objectivity and transparency are enshrined in these principles.

It was also clear that the addition of any channels or platforms should not impact on the integrity of our data collection and reporting methodology. Our techniques treat all media channels equitably, while the anonymity of our panel members is sacrosanct.

The consultation explored the expectations that advertisers and agencies have for a cross-platform audience currency. In one word the answer is comparability, which in practice covers three issues.

Equivalent metrics for all reported media channels is naturally the first of these. There is a strong consensus that the duration-based conventions at the heart of television audience measurement are the ones to follow.

The second area of comparability relates to brand safety, which is paramount. Advertisers and agencies expect campaign reach and frequency to be calculated for placements that meet industry-agreed standards for brand safety.

Currently, advertisers and agencies can be confident about brand safety on TV because BARB only reports audiences for services that operate within regulated and, therefore, brand-safe environments. This regulatory framework is underpinned by the European Union directive on Audio-Visual Media Services, which is relevant when we consider the international status of media companies.

The third area of comparability flows from the desire of many advertisers and agencies to focus on the context in which their advertising messages are seen; media context is widely seen to be crucial. For this reason, advertisers and agencies should be able to plan campaign reach and frequency into editorial environments classified by genre and/or programme. Equally, they should be able to verify campaign delivery in this way.

BARB is committed to finding new techniques for new challenges. In recent years we have introduced reporting audiences for online TV, non-linear programming and dynamically served advertising, using techniques that don’t sacrifice our guiding principles. Following the delivery of a people-based measure of viewing to online TV programmes, the next priority for Project Dovetail is to deliver an equivalent measure for viewing online TV commercials.

The consultation has provided a very clear reading on the industry’s expectations for how we should deliver this. It’s in this context that we welcome conversations with any content owners and platforms.

Justin Sampson, Chief Executive, BARB