CLOSE-UP: NEWSMAKER/NIGEL WALMSLEY - Number-cruncher who's picked up the Barb baton - Nigel Walmsley must move swiftly to rectify problems at Barb, Jeremy Lee writes

So a head has finally rolled at Barb following the numerous and well-documented problems with the installation of the new TV audience panel.

To the surprise of some, the executioners decided not to choose the dainty neck of Barb's chief executive, Caroline McDevitt, but instead went for the scalp of its chairman, Nick Phillips.

Phillips - who is on holiday this week - had been in the post for less than two years, having taken the job when his tenure as the director-general of the IPA was over.

Barb claims that Phillips' removal was approved unanimously by the organisation's shareholders, but there are persistent rumours that the board was divided.

Indeed, one person close to Barb was of the opinion that Phillips was just a scapegoat. "The broadcasters were after blood and Phillips was an easy target, he says.

But now that Phillips has rightly or wrongly been chosen as the fall guy, most in the industry are keen that his replacement, Nigel Walmsley, gets on with the job of sorting out the beleaguered organisation.

Walmsley, a former deputy chief executive of Carlton Communications and the managing director of Capital Radio, has a strong CV, though was unavailable for interview by Campaign.

He left Carlton in September last year, having been a prominent right-hand man of the company's chairman, Michael Green.

At the beginning of the 90s he was instrumental in the nascent Carlton winning the London weekday ITV franchise and later played a major role in the company securing the digital terrestrial TV licences with Granada.

Walmsley's CV lists time spent in senior positions at the Post Office, as assistant secretary at the Department of Industry and non-executive posts at Energis and De Vere Group. Until the end of last year he was also the chairman of GMTV and he is going to need all of his business acumen if he is to turn around Barb.

"It's a textbook British fuck-up, one source says. Certainly the protracted process of getting the Barb panel anywhere near the promised size still seems Herculean given how far it still has to go.

It is rumoured that even now, eight months after its introduction, it is still around 1,000 panel homes short of its target figure of 5,100.

The regional variations and problems with specific demographic groups, young adults in particular, still give cause for concern.

Such figures will not be lost on Walmsley, who has a reputation for being a numbers man with an eye for the minutiae. "It's a dull job and they've got the right man for it, one observer says. Dull it may be but it's also extremely challenging given the chaos that has come to symbolise Barb.

But have the broadcasters merely replaced a well-respected and popular but dyed-in-the-wool advertising man for one of their own kind? (After all, McDevitt formerly worked within ITV and reportedly made millions when Carlton bought out Westcountry TV.)

If they have they'll probably be disappointed with the results. "Walmsley has immense integrity and there's no way that he would simply act as an ITV place-man, one observer who knows the new chairman says.

As well as getting on with sorting out the recruitment of the panel, broadcast directors are hopeful that he will be more communicative with agencies than has previously been the case.

"They should do more to allay our fears. We've all got a vested interest in making it work but there doesn't seem to be any positive steps. Walmsley needs to pull out all the stops to get it working, Media Planning Group's broadcast director, Andrew Canter, says.

There's also a lot of criticism that Barb should have notified agencies earlier about the problems it was experiencing rather than just appearing to hope they'd go away.

But one of the problems, according to another source, is that Barb can't admit that the system isn't working because not only would the TV industry collapse but it would also bring the advertising world down with it given the volume of TV deals that are traded.

Although this may sound a little melodramatic, Edward Lloyd Barnes, the managing director of The ComFederation, points out there is concern that the current system may be falsely pointing the finger. "At present I'm confused as to what the true picture is, particularly at ITV. Is it the panel or is it the programming? he says.

Barb has always maintained its data is robust and, in fairness, it has begun to settle down after the vast variations of the first quarter of the year. This has lead some to believe that it's the programming that is the problem and that the broadcasters have to get used to this.

If true, and with about 60 per cent of TV deals coming up for renegotiation over the next few months, it's now key that Walmsley either sorts out the panel or sorts out Barb's squabbling shareholders.

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