Gold Standard

The Media Leader: BARB has evolved for streaming services but they must adapt too

23 May 2022

This article by Justin Sampson, our Chief Executive, was first published in The Media Leader on May 23rd 2022.

BARB’s chief executive explains the latest evolution of the industry’s gold-standard measure of what people watch and calls for the participation of online streamers in the next stage of development.

At our recent BARB Briefing: The 360° Audience View, a range of industry representatives talked about our recent launch of audience data for streaming services such as Netflix, Disney+, YouTube and TikTok.

A common theme was the importance of having gold-standard measurement of audiences for the streamers.

Gold standard is a phrase often applied to BARB and is easy to say. But what does it really mean?

How and when this description was first applied to BARB is lost in the mists of time. Yet being the gold standard is a resilient concept, and one that’s based on resolving an essential duality — how does a constant unchanging force interact with the need for constant evolution?

The constant unchanging force is the principles and values that have guided us since we were launched as the industry’s agreed measurement for what people watch. We can’t do what we do without transparency, objectivity and comparability.

And these are as valid today as they were when we launched in 1981. Published recently, the WFA’s statement of principles for cross-media measurement seem inspired by this decades-long philosophy. Indeed they could have been written with BARB in mind.

Supported by these principles and values, constant evolution is also necessary. The multitude of stakeholders in BARB reminds us that it’s an ecosystem constituted of data users, data commissioners and data processors from all corners of the industry.

And all ecosystems naturally evolve in response to a changing environment. This need for constant evolution is why we continuously examine when and how to introduce new methodologies and technologies.

The recent introduction of daily audience figures for SVOD and video-sharing services is a significant milestone in our quest for continuous improvement. It’s the latest evolution of our industry’s gold-standard measure of what people watch.

And BARB data are the gold standard because the whole industry has jointly thrashed out and agreed on the viewing figures we report.

Our metrics work as a measurement currency for advertising airtime because buyers and sellers all agree to use it. And not only have both sides agreed to use it, representatives of all stakeholders in the ecosystem are constantly involved in designing it, developing it, evolving it. Likewise, when applied to programming, all the UK’s broadcasters respect the numbers; not least because they’ve all played a part in designing them.

Standards are crucial for any industry-wide system. The building blocks of audience measurement — average audience, impressions, views, opportunity to see — wouldn’t be comparable if every player in the market defined them their own way.

Imagine a football team could claim victory when it scores fewer goals than the opposing team: this is clearly absurd.

Agencies, advertisers, programme-makers and regulators need to be able to confidently compare the size of audiences from different media services. To this end, BARB has always been a place for different players to put aside differences to work together. Right from the beginning, our stakeholders have come together to agree gold-standard methodologies and standard metrics.

And applying standards is particularly important when mixing different data sources. Without consistent building blocks, you can’t easily compare or combine two measures — it’s like having to work out how much the cash in your pocket is worth if it’s in two different currencies.

Faith in the outcomes of a data integration increases when sources are audited to determine whether they meet the same standard. And this requires not just for the data to be auditable but for the creation of the data to be auditable. Principles of standardisation need to apply not just to the end-data but to the compilation, delivery and application of the data.

BARB has worked through this process to design the Dovetail Fusion methodology that integrates audience data from different techniques and methodologies across linear and BVOD services. It’s also why BARB stipulates that when our data are combined with other data sources, these other sources must be objectively equivalent.

It’s been said our industry is now going through a period of great collaboration. We can see this with the online platforms coming together for Project Origin and commercial broadcasters working together on CFlight, which BARB is involved in.

Yet collaboration has always been part of BARB’s decision-making process.

Advertisers have a voice through ISBA, and agencies through the IPA. Alongside these buyers of advertising, broadcasters collaborate despite different funding models based on a range of advertising, programme sales, platform subscriptions and a licence fee.

The thread of steel that holds all these stakeholders together is the need for industry-agreed reporting of what people watch. And that is what BARB is. It’s the gold-standard measure for what people watch.

And this gold standard has evolved again with the addition of audience data for streaming services such as Netflix, Disney+, YouTube and TikTok. Having done this without the active participation of most of these services, we are now determined to go further in our measurement of TV and TV-like content across all platforms.

As we do this — and in line with previous industry consultations — we are guided by vital ground rules. These include the need for equivalent metrics, industry-agreed standards for brand safety and reporting commercial audiences within editorial context.

Equally, we have adapted our position so we can be ready to work with online platforms. We accept the need to work with first-party data collected by media services, and also to report audiences on unregulated services.

At the risk of repetition, the industry’s gold-standard measure of what people watch could go further if the online streaming services were to actively participate in BARB. This would need their acceptance of the standards that underpin everything BARB does. And why shouldn’t they agree to that?

Justin Sampson, Chief Executive, BARB