OFF THE FENCE: Will the new BARB panel make a significant difference to TV accountability?

BARB, the TV body, is set to unveil changes to its audience measurement service from 1 January, including a new viewing panel. Will it boost TV as a medium?

NO - Richard Oliver, investment director, UM

The six years that the new BARB panel will be in place for will probably see more changes in the ways in which consumers watch TV than any other previous period.

At the centre of that will be the service BARB provides - from helping inform programme commissions to providing a stable and meaningful currency for the trading of airtime.

Sensibly, BARB and its stakeholders have opted for evolution rather than revolution. Most recent data suggests new modes of TV consumption will coexist with traditional TV viewing and BARB is well placed to reflect and report on this.

But the danger in the new BARB panel was always that it would attempt to do too many new things and then, inevitably, do everything less well. Instead, it looks set to introduce new services and capture new viewing with the accuracy and stability that an industry of this size and importance needs.

The new BARB panel may not significantly improve TV's accountability, but BARB will be increasingly respected for the job it does.

 

YES - Neil Mortensen, research director, OPera

The first and most important thing to note is that the new service is ready to go. Many of us still have painful memories of the last change in 2002, so it is great to know there has been an unprecedented level of due diligence from BARB this time around.

The new BARB panel will be better balanced. It will have a better representation of multi-platform homes and ethnic profiles, giving us a more accurate understanding of viewing behaviour and allowing us to plan our clients' TV activity with greater assurance.

The panel has a new geographical design that dispenses with the overlapping regions the old analogue world demanded. This will give us the ability to plan and report clients' activity on discrete areas, more befitting our fully digital world and more efficient for network reporting.

The new panel will measure more stuff. The new meters will have comprehensive coverage of all TV sets and related equipment in the home, and will pick up more video-on-demand activity, as well as Sky Anytime. The next step is measuring television viewing via a PC or laptop, which is the number one priority for development in 2010.

The industry should continue to plan and buy television with confidence. The new BARB panel will improve the accuracy of the television currency in the UK and simplify aspects of the trading system. There will be viewing differences in the short term, but the currency will continue to offer an unrivalled gold standard measurement for the future.

 

YES - Andrew McIntosh, research director, IDS

The new BARB panel is a completely fresh look at the UK's TV consumption, following widespread consultation throughout the industry by BARB.

A sizeable new investment in TV measurement in today's complex landscape is a boost to accountability almost by definition.

Redesigned to measure viewing in today's multimedia households, the BARB panel has also been simplified to be more readily adaptable to future consumer, technological or broadcaster change, which creates the possibility of measuring PC and laptop TV viewing in the foreseeable future, for instance.

And it provides additional information about panellists, which enables planners and buyers to target viewers with greater accuracy. Combined with ethnic, geographic and other methodological improvements, it represents a significant improvement while looking ostensibly similar.

The question of TV accountability continues far beyond BARB of course. Advertisers, agencies, auditors, broadcast platforms and broadcasters are all responsible for ensuring that the effects and return on investment in TV advertising are well understood.

However, a rejuvenated panel is a timely reminder that TV viewing in the UK is measured minute-by-minute, person-by-person in great detail, by trusted research companies, commissioned by an independent body formed by the competing interests of the BBC, advertisers and commercial broadcasters.

That is a reassuringly solid foundation for television's accountability.

 

 

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