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BARB in the 2020s

4 April 2019

This article by Justin Sampson, our Chief Executive, was first published in Mediatel Newsline on April 4th 2019.

In early February, I visited New York to attend an annual cross-platform video measurement and data summit. 250 industry leaders gathered to review progress towards the objective of having unduplicated reporting of who’s watching what.

We have the same need here in the UK. Broadcasters, advertisers and media agencies want an audience currency for the number of people watching programmes and commercials on different services across multiple screens. And they want a trusted currency.

BARB is fully engaged with this requirement. This is why we’re delivering Project Dovetail through new techniques that report multiple-screen viewing of broadcaster VOD (BVOD) services. We’ve also delivered new techniques for reporting pre-broadcast viewing, box set viewing and exposure to dynamically-inserted advertising. These developments put us in a strong position to keep up with ongoing changes.

More work is needed to deliver comprehensive multiple-screen programme and commercial audience ratings, and we acknowledge frustration this hasn’t happened sooner. We also know we have to get this right. BARB ratings are integral to the UK television and advertising industry, as it rationalises an annual investment of £7.5bn in the production and distribution of programmes and commercials. We can’t put a foot wrong.

BARB has also completed a wide-ranging consultation process that articulated the industry’s expectations for the delivery of multiple-platform viewing figures. The industry’s trust in BARB shone through during the consultation. Responses from advertisers and agencies vindicated our joint industry approach to providing an apples-with-apples comparison of different viewing audiences. Everything we do is guided by the need for independence, objectivity and transparency.

Metrics are a fundamental part of this comparability, and the message from our consultation was plain: advertisers and agencies support the duration-weighted metrics used for many years by the television industry. The US industry seems to have reached this conclusion too. The Media Ratings Council confirmed at the New York event that duration-weighted impressions will be at the heart of its newly-defined standard for cross-media video metrics.

But comparability isn’t just about equivalent metrics. Media context is crucial, and BARB provides full transparency on the programme environments that advertising campaigns are delivered in. Also, BARB reports audiences to channels and services that have equivalent editorial responsibilities for the way they deliver programme and commercial content to viewers.

All this context is important as we continue to develop Project Dovetail in line with industry expectations.

Our strategy for delivering this landmark development is to integrate viewing data from our representative panel of UK homes with a census-level count of viewing to BVOD services. This has led to the introduction of new contracts that augment the services delivered by more established contracts. Our focus on these new contracts is why, in recent years, we have actively decided to go into extra time on contracts that are at the heart of delivering our core audience measurement services.

BARB’s vision is to have the versatility to track the technologies media companies will use to reach viewers throughout the 2020s. To this end, and building on the firm foundations we have in place, we are now starting a tender process for contracts that have been in place since 2010. Our invitation to tender is designed to ensure we have a high-quality, representative panel of UK homes for many years to come.

We expect to commission modern metering technology that gives us the flexibility to react quickly to changes in the technologies people use to watch their favourite programmes. We are looking to produce less volatile estimates of viewing, and for innovation in how we engage people to participate in an ongoing audience measurement panel.

BARB’s audience currency will always have a single-source panel of people at the heart of its design. The contract tender process we have started will ensure we are working with research agencies that are best-equipped to deliver a high-quality solution through to the end of the 2020s.

But the tender process doesn’t mean putting other things on hold. The timetable has been set so we can maintain momentum in developing our services during the current contract.

Our priorities include delivering the next two stages of Project Dovetail, including multiple-screen campaign performance. We expect to introduce techniques that delineate post-broadcast viewing between BVOD services and playback through a recording device. There are new dynamically-inserted advertising services to report too, while we want to meet the need for more insight into the levels of viewing to online services such as Netflix that aren’t yet measured by BARB.

Returning to the event in New York, several speakers referred to 2019 as “the year of the panel”. The benefits of representative panels of opted-in people are resurfacing, not least because growing privacy concerns point to a future in which the collection of data directly from devices is likely to be more constrained by regulation.

Some might have you believe that research panels are old hat. The reality is they are still the best guarantee of getting a universally-accepted source of truth about what people are doing.