BARB Explained

BARB Explained: How we collect viewing data from the BARB panel

13 December 2018
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BARB is the official provider of UK television viewing figures, but how do we know what’s being watched? In the first of this two-part BARB Explained, we look at how we collect viewing data from our first data source, the BARB panel.

The BARB panel is a sample of 5,300 households that represent television viewing in all types of households across the UK. The panel is essential because it tells us what is being watched, who is watching and which device they are using. We use a variety of techniques to identify what is being watched. Meanwhile, we know the answer to the latter two questions because we fit meters to TV sets, PCs and tablets in panel homes; panel members must register on a special handset when they are in front of the TV set or via an on-screen virtual handset or app on PCs and tablets.

Many European countries use several panels to monitor viewing on different devices. In contrast, our strategy is to have a single source for how people watch across multiple screens. This has the advantage of generating better inputs, as we meet the need for unduplicated reporting of programme and commercial audiences across multiple screens. We also have to consider that combining data from multiple panels tends to result in less precise demographic profiles, which are key for our customers; a single-source panel mitigates this risk. This is why we install meters on PCs and tablets as well as TV sets in our panel homes.

We don’t yet track how our panel members watch on smartphones. Smartphone users are selective about which apps they download, so they may not wish to have software meters installed on their phones to monitor their viewing in this way. We believe that the risk of panel homes deciding to leave due to this is not matched by the reward in collecting these data, as smartphone viewing equates to just 0.3% of the amount of viewing on TV sets. We are exploring the use of router meters as a method of monitoring a household’s viewing across all devices, including smartphones.

The panel provides valuable demographic insight into multiple-screen viewing. For example, panel data show that women accounted for 61% of viewing to the final of The Great British Bake Off on Channel 4 on October 30th across three screens (TV sets, PCs and tablets). Breaking down the profiles further, we can see that of the people watching on a PC, 37% were young women aged 25-34, whereas older adults – older men in particular – took a higher share of the TV set viewing (see chart).

Source: BARB, October 30th 2018. Each device data set will sum to 100.

Look out for the second part of this BARB Explained to find out how we collect device-based census data.