This article by Justin Sampson, our Chief Executive, was first published in Campaign on 1st December 2017.
As we head towards the end of a turbulent year for online audience measurement, BARB staged an event called “People watching in the internet age”.
It was an appropriate theme because many of us now enjoy watching our favourite programmes through TV player apps.
This is why BARB is mastering the measurement of online viewing, regardless of whether it’s on a TV set, a tablet, a PC or a smartphone.
Over 200 industry folk gathered at Bafta and heard me confess that BARB has been presenting made-up numbers. Before you get too worried, it’s only one chart and doesn’t affect any trading data.
My explanation is that the industry has asked BARB to deliver cross-platform audience data. The made-up number chart has been our way of bringing to life how Project Dovetail will meet this objective. The good news is that the chart has now been consigned to the archives. We have a replacement chart with real numbers.
BBC launched the second series of Top of the Lake on BBC iPlayer in the summer. The whole series was available on the day that the first episode aired on BBC2.
Our new chart (see above) shows how the third episode attracted an audience of 643,000 people in the two weeks before it was broadcast on 10 August. Just under three-quarters of these people watched on a TV set, with the remainder choosing to watch on either a tablet, a PC or a smartphone.
We then see that 768,000 people watched episode 3 live. Not surprisingly the TV set dominated at this point.
A further 1.3m people watched in the subsequent four weeks, and again we know how this splits across TV sets, tablets, PCs and smartphones.
There are two caveats: Firstly the viewing figures for computer devices come from census rather than panel data; they don’t tell us how many people were in front of the screen and what type of people they were. This means we’re assuming, for the moment, one person of unknown demography per computer device. Secondly, we haven’t yet de-duplicated audiences to ensure there is no double counting of viewers across different platforms.
Nevertheless, this demonstrates the breadth of BARB’s measurement capabilities.
We can report people-based audiences for non-linear, on-demand content that’s watched on a TV set. We can report the level of online TV viewing on tablets, PCs and smartphones.
That said, we currently need online platforms, rights owners and services such as Netflix and Amazon to want to be measured, if we are to deliver a comprehensive picture of what people are watching.
BARB will make more progress in 2018 with the launch of full cross-platform reporting of programme audiences. This is scheduled for March and will add more texture to our Top of the Lake example, taking into account co-viewing and viewer demographics. We’re also on the case with cross-platform measurement of commercials, although some more planning is needed before we confirm a delivery date.
There will be discussion next year about whether BARB should extend our measurement services to cover other online platforms, such as YouTube. We have started a consultation process that’s designed to understand the priorities of stakeholders across the industry. This is important because it’s not straightforward or cheap to measure everything on a like-for-like basis.
We expect the consultation to throw up some chewy findings. Should the ideology of a joint industry currency such as BARB adapt to accommodate the ideology of online media platforms? Is BARB right to adhere to the need for duration-based metrics? Why do leading advertisers ask that all BARB-reported channels are regulated on a level playing field?
We also expect questions about the extent of BARB’s remit. Some seem to think that BARB exists to demonstrate effectiveness; this has never been the case and we wouldn’t want to tread on Thinkbox’s toes.
Equally, our viewing figures do provide consistent inputs to the assessment of advertising effect. Our data help advertisers and agencies justify use of media channels that are primarily used for brand- building activity. The question of whether we should extend our reporting to cover online platforms raises another; should BARB provide a currency for platforms that have, to date, been primarily evaluated on direct response metrics?
There is much to be discussed as we head towards the new year. If 2017 has been a moment of reckoning for the measurement of online audiences, will 2018 be a year of truth and reconciliation?
Justin Sampson, Chief Executive, BARB