BARB back in the firing line

The audience measurement system must respond to demands for more detailed and integrated data.

Not for the first time, the Broadcasters' Audience Research Board (BARB), which provides the TV ratings data used to trade £4bn a year in airtime revenues, finds itself under scrutiny. A session at the Edinburgh TV Festival entitled 'BARB - the number's up?' highlighted uncertainty over whether this system of TV audience measurement can deliver the data demanded by advertisers.

Its tightly defined remit - to monitor TV viewing in homes - means it says nothing about audiences in offices or pubs. And some believe it is no longer in step with the way media agencies plan client campaigns. 'Agencies have restructured to understand how consumers use a range of media, but the lack of integration between BARB and measurement systems such as NRS (print) and Rajar (radio) means we have no real sense of how consumption of media overlaps,' says MediaCom head of consumer insight Mick Mernagh.

While clients and agencies crave media-neutral, consumer-centric insights, media owners fund research to reinforce the strength of their own media.

Even if they found a commercial justification for conducting cross-media research, BARB chief executive Bjarme Thelin says there would be massive complexities in pooling the measurement systems. 'BARB provides minute-by-minute viewing data on an overnight basis. Other surveys are less frequent and operate according to different geographical patterns.

To combine them you'd be looking at a high cost and loss of detail in what BARB delivers.'

Cross-media insights

ITV and News International acknowledged the need for some form of integrated cross-media research by lending their weight to an initiative from the Institute of Practitioners in Advertising (IPA) called TouchPoints. Due to launch next spring, it aims to analyse how consumers use media. Participants in the NOP-led survey will 'log' which media they consume using handheld devices.

The findings will be integrated with established measurement systems such as BARB and Rajar to give an insight into consumption patterns. But IPA research chief Lynne Robinson does not see TouchPoints as a replacement for sophisticated systems such as BARB.

What about alternatives from research big-hitters such as Arbitron and Gfk? The latter has just unveiled MediaWatch, a wristwatch-like device that can measure consumer contact with radio, TV and cinema via a recording unit that notes audio signals three times a minute. It can also measure viewing of poster sites, provided they have transmitters installed that send a signal to MediaWatch as the wearer passes the sites. Measuring the consumption of print media involves survey participants pressing a button on the MediaWatch to indicate which newspaper or magazine they are reading.

Knut Hackbarth, head of international operations at GfK technology arm Telecontrol, says the system provides out-of-home and consumer-centric research. But what about the shortcomings of the device? 'Our wristwatches are limited in what they can say about digital and time-shifted viewing,' acknowledges Hackbarth. In addition, because the watches need to be sent away to have the information they have collected downloaded, they do not provide continuous real-time data.

So what do agencies think? Instead of bolting the different measurement systems together, should we ditch the lot and start again with GfK?

'At this stage, there's no way advertisers would benefit by replacing BARB with the one-size-fits-all approach,' says Carat Insight deputy managing director Mark Greenstreet.

Greenstreet and Robinson think that the biggest issue facing BARB is the need for it to get to grips with the way in which viewers now move randomly in and out of the digital interactive stream in short bursts at any time of the day.

Thelin argues that BARB is moving forward as quickly as possible: 'We're adding services that look at personal video recorders (PVRs), TV sponsorship, interactive use and lifestyle (see Data file). But there are limits to what the technology can achieve.'

Rival panels

Besides, BARB can never keep everyone happy. BSkyB understands this, and fills in the gaps in the information that BARB can offer by conducting its own audience research.

Next year the broadcaster will be joining forces with Taylor Nelson Sofres to launch a 20,000-strong viewer panel that aims to link its viewing data with the TNS purchasing panel.

A BSkyB spokesman denies the panel constitutes a criticism of BARB: 'We want to know more about subscriber behaviour so we can minimise churn and cross-sell appropriate products.'

Put all these developments together and they clearly challenge BARB's position as an industry standard. 'All audience measurement systems must address these concerns,' says Hackbarth.

'As audiences become more fragmented, either they will bring these issues under their control, or parallel measurement systems will grow up to service the companies they aren't providing for.'

DATA FILE - BARB

On Friday BARB announced that it has commissioned a Lifestyle Insights survey to offer more detailed information about the behaviour and spending habits of its 5000-home viewing panel. The survey will enable BARB data to be analysed against information about leisure time, travel, car ownership, home and shopping and other media consumption. Commissioned for an initial two years, BARB says the survey will improve the ability to plan campaigns and target airtime. It also claims that the data will aid understanding of viewer motivations. Groups now identifiable within BARB include high spenders on gardening and DIY, cinema-goers, car drivers and late-home workers.

Discussion

Before commenting please read our rules for commenting on articles.

If you see a comment you find offensive, you can flag it as inappropriate. In the top right-hand corner of an individual comment, you will see 'flag as inappropriate'. Clicking this prompts us to review the comment. For further information see our rules for commenting on articles.

comments powered by Disqus
Brand Republic Jobs

subscribe now

Latest

John Lewis walks consumers through its history to celebrate 150 years of business
Waitrose boosts content strategy with 'Weekend Kitchen with Waitrose' C4 tie-up
Hottest virals: Cute puppies star in Pedigree ad, plus Idris Elba and Fruyo
Amnesty International burns candles to illuminate new hope
Toyota achieves the impossible by calming angry Roman drivers
Tom of Finland's 'homoerotic' drawings made into stamps
YouTube reveals user habits to appeal to 'older' marketers
Ex-M&S marketing chief Steven Sharp consulting at WPP
Wolff Olins reveals new CEO after Apple poaches Karl Heiselman
Glasgow offers £30,000 prize to best digital idea for 2014 Commonwealth Games
Google's revenues surge but shares drop as it grapples with transition to mobile
Facebook beats Twitter to most 'marketing friendly' social media site crown, says DMA
Fableists believe children like Finn should be outdoors enjoying life
Homebase, Baileys and Camelot join the line-up at Media360
MasterCard renews Rugby World Cup sponsorship to push cashless message
Lynx unleashes £9m 'Peace invasion' campaign
Social Brands 100 Youth: Pizza Hut most social youth brand in UK
Cheryl Cole is wild and arresting in new L'Oreal work
Morrisons told not to show alcohol ads during YouTube nursery rhymes
O2 head of brand Shadi Halliwell departs after 23 years at company in restructure
Tesco hit by further sales decline as it turns to digital Clubcard and social network
Branding guru Wally Olins dies aged 83
Duracell short film captures epic Transatlantic voyage
Ash runs Tinder experiment to show smokers are less desirable to opposite sex
British Airways teams up with Gerry Cottle Jnr for summer of rooftop film screenings
Arklu says 'girls can be superheroes too' with doll design competition
Coke enters squash market with Oasis Mighty Drops
Virgin Galactic signs up Land Rover as space flight sponsor
Motorola marketer Andrew Morley departs as Google gears up for sale to Lenovo
US Airways apologises after tweeting obscene image at a customer