The BARB panel

What is the BARB panel and why do we need it?

The BARB panel is a sample of carefully recruited households and together, these represent television viewing across the nation.

On behalf of BARB, Ipsos Mori interviews over 1000 households each week for the BARB Establishment Survey. This helps us to recognise the types of home we need to have on our panel. It also provides us with the information needed to accurately weight our viewing data so they are always representative of the whole country. We can also identify from the Establishment Survey changing forms of television viewing, such as the use of SVOD services like Netflix and Amazon Prime Video.

Ultimately, the Establishment Survey helps us to find homes that are willing to be members of the panel. Our target is to maintain a panel of 5,300 homes (including 200 broadband-only homes) that are representative of household type, demographics, TV platform and geography. There are over 12,000 people living in these homes, helping us to measure what you watch.

The representative panel will always be a crucial part of what BARB does, although we understand the benefits of sourcing data directly from the devices used to watch television. Device-based data alone has some limitations, however, as it is unable to identify who is in front of the screen and what type of person they are. This knowledge is critical to understanding programme reach, demographic viewing profiles and the number of viewers per screen.

How does BARB know who is watching and what they are watching?

Having recruited a representative sample of homes, we then start to measure what people are watching and when. Kantar Media fits every TV set in the panel home with a meter. Software meters are also installed on PCs and tablets so that we can monitor viewing of BVOD services on these devices.

In order for us to know who is watching, all individuals in panel homes use a handset to register when they are in front of a TV set or device. The registration handset for TV sets looks a bit like a remote-control unit, while those viewing on PCs use a virtual handset which appears on the screen. Registration takes place through an app when a panel member is viewing on a tablet. Each household member has a button labelled just for them which they press to show that they are in a room when the television is on. There are also buttons for guests to register. All participants are asked to press the button each time they enter or leave the room.

Quality control is an important part of our processes. A team of panel managers review the data continuously, looking for anomalies that might suggest failure to register appropriately. We also undertake spot checks and coincidental surveys from time to time, so we can be assured that the data coming back from the meter are correct. If we see strange viewing patterns, we will investigate and, if necessary, remove the home from the panel. We also need to replace the home if it publicises that it is on the panel. Panel integrity is very important and it is critical that we ensure confidentiality and privacy for those participating.

Having established who is in front of the screen, we then need to determine what is being watched. The key to this is sound. Audio samples are more effective than pictures when identifying TV channels. This is because TV screens use a variety of different picture sizes and ratios and could also have text overlaid or show multiple images side-by-side. The meter takes samples of the sound on our panellists’ televisions and PCs and converts these to digital fingerprints. Each night, we retrieve these fingerprints from the meters in panel homes so that they can be matched to a reference library of television content for both programmes and adverts. The matching process is highly complex and runs through two separate servers. This means that even in the unlikely event of a system failure in the first server, we will still be able to deliver fresh and accurate data every day.

The audio fingerprinting process might not always provide a definite answer on what is being watched. This can be the case when more than one channel is showing the same content at the same time, such as channels available in both standard and high definition. On these occasions, we rely on broadcasters attaching an audio watermark to their output. The watermark is inaudible to the human ear, but can be picked up by the meters, enabling us to allocate viewing to the right channel.

We use an additional technique in homes that subscribe to Sky. In these homes, we are able to access service information codes within Sky’s set-top boxes. This gives great precision in identifying which channels is being tuned into at any given moment.

We also source data directly from the devices used to watch online TV. Read device-based data to learn more about this.