BARB comments

Three momentous things began on Friday 1 January 2010: a new decade, a World Cup year, and a brand new BARB contract. Days very rarely get bigger than that for me.

So, BARB has changed – what it does and who is doing it – and the thought of this originally filled me with fear, not joy. I have been closely involved in monitoring previous changes to BARB supply and still wake up screaming with memories of being drowned in computer printouts during the interminable ‘parallel runs’, when the old and new services were run simultaneously in order to pick up any major inconsistencies in the data.

Happily, those nightmares should now become a thing of the past and I will sleep as contentedly as Simon Cowell, as data processing provides the analysis far more effectively (and paper-free!). More importantly, the consistency of data between the two panels this time round has been nothing short of remarkable,

If you think about it, a totally new panel of viewers, with several significant changes in methodology (e.g. panel controls, data collection hardware, calculation procedures etc.) and a new supplier structure offered the potential for massive disruption in the TV industry’s trading currency. And yet, if we look at the data being produced by the new panel, the differences are both minimal and explainable. During the parallel run, daily viewing patterns, reach, channel shares and live vs. timeshift viewing levels were impressively similar. Now that we are beyond the parallel run and into the new panel’s full reporting phase, the consistency has continued and the continued rise in viewing can be related to the extreme weather conditions (totally consistent with the increases we saw during the snowfalls of Feb 09).

And, in addition to fantastic consistency, the new panel and contract terms mean we will be able to start measuring on-demand TV viewing in the home soon, with the possibility of measuring TV on other devices at a later stage.

Efficient trading of TV airtime is reliant on an audience currency which is both accurate and consistent. Whenever a new panel is introduced, both of these attributes are placed under severe threat. I’ve even known MDs of broadcasters who have lost their jobs because they failed to predict the levels of change! So, we should applaud not only the BARB executive and their shareholders, but both the previous and the new teams of suppliers who have obviously excelled themselves over the years in producing data that is both reliable AND accurate.

We have often boasted of having the best audience research system in the world here in the UK, and at times like this such claims are really put to the test. The frustration for BARB and their suppliers is that they only come under the spotlight when things go wrong; rather like boiling a kettle or taking a Tube.  Having experienced plenty of failures from other services during the first weeks of 2010, I feel we should place the spotlight on BARB’s quiet success; one service that didn’t falter.  Not only does it reinforce our faith in the data (massively important for any currency) but it also provides us with one less headache following the new year celebrations!

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