Shaping BARB service for UK TV market

10 June 2005

BARB has launched an ambitious consultation process, inviting the industry to participate in shaping the BARB service for the increasingly advanced UK television market.

At the launch of ‘Future into View’, at which nearly 200 senior representatives from amongst BARB’s stakeholders were present, Bjarne Thelin, BARB’s chief executive, said, ‘Television will be best served with an effective system if relevant views are helping to shape the future of the service. BARB seeks to deliver consensus industry needs at a price that the industry is prepared to fund. It aims for as comprehensive a measure as possible of TV viewing and to continue to provide the UK market with an objective, credible, gold-standard audience measurement service.

He outlined some of the challenges in the marketplace. ‘As we look around at the huge range of TV-related devices on offer, it is clear that there is more functionality – and range of functionality – available to viewers than ever before. This results in a wide range of viewing environments across the UK. There are more than 29,000 devices connected into BARB meters across the UK – and that number is increasing as more homes are getting more equipment and becoming more sophisticated.

‘At the high-tech end of the range, there is a burgeoning choice in a digital multi-channel environment with sophisticated interconnected devices. This is the end of the range that we have to consider for the future, as here will be the developments that challenge the industry – and challenge BARB’s ability to measure. The march of development in receiving devices is unrelenting – TV screens are at the same time getting bigger and smaller, with flat screen options becoming more affordable and mobile devices moving from concept to reality. Sometimes, this gives the impression that we’ll all become swamped in a high-tech quagmire, but the reality is that even the fastest proliferation devices take a number of years to achieve any notable penetration.’

He added that there were important and difficult questions that needed working through by the industry and with regard to audience measurement. These questions might cover which devices or functionality should be included, how they should be measured, and whether BARB should aim to deliver data in advance of “trigger points” of potential penetration or viewing impact.

Mr Thelin also said that, while there was a great deal of talk regarding cross-media measurement, future developments in television required BARB’s full attention at present.

Tony Wearn, BARB’s Research Director, outlined some major developments that had been incorporated over the history of the service (such as guest viewing, timeshift and digital measurement). He then went on to detail some of the active development, investigatory and exploratory work that is being undertaken by BARB at present. This includes the assessment of new techniques for their potential relevance to television audience measurement – such as personal meters and return path data, alongside assessments of developments in people meter technology.

Tony Wearn also emphasised that the averaging of some existing BARB data over periods of time could reduce the variability in the figures for smaller channels. He invited responses on whether such approaches were workable and affordable alternatives to a dramatic increase in panel size – which would be required to have any significant effect on reducing the variability in the reporting of smaller channels.

Bjarne Thelin invited the industry to let BARB know its views on issues including transportable content in the home; transportable and fixed-set environments out of home; interactivity; broadcast content from non-broadcast devices such as PVRs, Video on Demand, and PCs; the capture of all broadcast content on screens; expected changes in the marketplace; the likelihood that trading of airtime will change; personalised advertising; and product placement.

He stated that choices would have to made as to what the BARB service is to cover. ‘It will be impossible to deliver everything that everyone would like to see. But we hope to find a way forward which can deliver most people most of their requirements, and all people much of their requirements,’ he said.

The presentation was followed by a panel session, chaired by Nigel Walley, Managing Director of media strategy consultants, Decipher. The panellists – Chris Hayward, Head of TV at ZenithOptimedia UK; Simon Cox, Vice President and Sales Director UK Entertainment Networks of Turner Broadcasting; Bob Wootton, Director of Media and Advertising at ISBA; Richard Halton, Controller of Television Strategy at the BBC; and Tim Patterson, Head of Network Scheduling at UK Channel Management – offered their own thoughts on what the consultation exercise should cover.

They all felt strongly that accuracy of measurement was crucial and there had to be confidence in whatever data BARB produced. The session highlighted a range of views regarding developments in the industry and requirements from BARB. The dialogue is encouraged to continue across the coming months.

The full text of BARB’s presentation and the consultation questionnaire will be available from next week on the BARB website at Future into View.

Responses are invited until mid-September. During the autumn, BARB will be undertaking face to face meetings as well as group forums with representatives throughout the industry with a view to drawing conclusions from the consultation in the first quarter of 2006.

Notes to Editors

BARB was set up in 1981 to provide the industry-standard audience measurement service for television broadcasters and the advertising industry. It is a not-for-profit limited company owned by BBC, ITV, Channel 4, five, BSkyB and the Institute of Practitioners in Advertising.

BARB provides in-home TV viewing measurement for the UK. This is obtained from a panel of 5,100 homes. These homes return data from around 11,500 viewers. Viewing from visitors to the home is included (Guest Viewing). Viewing figures are available to subscribers the morning after transmission. VCR playback is incorporated within 7 days of transmission (Consolidated Viewing). Audiences are reported on a minute-by-minute basis.

The panel design is representative of the whole of the UK. People are recruited from all sectors of the population. All viewing environments in the home are represented. Multiple TV sets are measured. BARB measures both analogue and digital delivery via cable, satellite and terrestrial distribution.