Tag Archives: TV audience measurement

Spot the difference – 1957 vs. now

The one thing that HRH Queen Elizabeth II is probably most proud of in her now diamond-encrusted reign is, of course, the development of British TV over her reign into the world-class industry it is today.  Her coronation was the prompt for many British families to invest in their first TV set, so they could gather round and squint at tiny TV screens that the average tablet would now put to shame.  Three years of set growth later, and the jewel in HRH’s TV crown, commercial TV, was born in 1955.  She must be thrilled at how well it has performed since then.

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I’m so excited and I just can’t hide it. I’m about to use my remote control and I think I’ll like it

It’s not like me to resort to cheesey pop lyrics – though I do confess to an excess of breathless enthusiasm sometimes – but this time I want you to get excited with me about things that really matter: TV programmes.

We are no slouches at Thinkbox when it comes to championing new TV technologies; you might have already seen our new Tellyporting research into TV’s future (if not you can see the re-run on 2 Feb).  But all the iPads, and 3D screens and smartphones and companion social media sites would be dreary devices indeed without the life-force and well-spring of great TV content.

Given the near 10% decline in TV ad revenue in 2009, it’s nothing short of miraculous that viewing hasn’t suffered in 2010, with average viewing likely to tip over the 4 hour mark.

Programmes like Downton Abbey (back again this year), This Is England ’86, An Idiot Abroad, Any Human Heart, Take Me Out, One Born Every Minute, Flying Monsters, World Cup coverage, 30Rock, Corrie Live at 50, The Walking Dead, Four Weddings, Australian Masterchef, Dispatches, the Election debates, Million Pound Drop, The Book Show etc. etc., not forgetting the juggernauts of X Factor, Britain’s Got Talent and I’m a Celebrity, kept me and millions of others entranced.  

So, after a bumper TV revenue year in 2010, up about 14%, and with brilliant programming teams in place across tellyland, what new treasures can we all look forward to in 2011?  Further episodes of Downton Abbey aside (what will Lady Mary do about Mr Crawley?) other 2011 ITV dramas include Kidnap & Ransom (with Trevor Eve), Monroe (a medical series with James Nesbitt and Sarah Parish), Vera (Brenda Blethyn as a detective), and two forays into the supernatural – Eternal Law (about two angels on earth) and Marchlands (about a house across the decades containing the spirit of a young girl) – look very tasty.  

Highly anticipated new satirical comedy on Channel 4 starts with 10 O’Clock Live this Thursday.  Not sure how I will cope with having two unlikely heartthrobs of mine in one show: Charlie Brooker AND David Mitchell.  With this, you are spoiling us Channel 4.  And in spring, the first series of Campus finally launches, from the team who brought you the best comedy series ever made, Green Wing.

And commercial TV is also delighted to welcome brilliant on-screen talent normally associated with the BBC, from David Attenborough on Sky One to Mary Portas as a Secret Shopper on Channel 4.  The launch of Sky Atlantic on February 1st, Sky’s joint venture with HBO will also bring all those classy series within the grasp of advertisers.  If you’re not excited about being able to puts ads in Mad Men breaks, then there’s just no pleasing some people, and maybe you should think about another career.

These are just a tiny fraction of the pleasures to come.  These, plus lots of new 3D programmes and the new opportunity of product placement means your focus for 2011 should be as squarely on the TV ‘software’ as the TV hardware.

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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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