MEDIA HEADLINER: BARB’s new broom promises renewal at dawn of digital era. Caroline McDevitt breaks the mould at the audience researcher. By Claire Beale

I like to imagine Caroline McDevitt sweeping into BARB’s grey, faceless Hammersmith offices with a bristle of power shoulder-pad, the clank of costume jewellery and lipsticked mouth set on a determined face.

I like to imagine Caroline McDevitt sweeping into BARB’s grey,

faceless Hammersmith offices with a bristle of power shoulder-pad, the

clank of costume jewellery and lipsticked mouth set on a determined

face.



The grey, faceless men of BARB will tremble slightly, dust will scatter

and life will be sucked back into the BARB board. The brassy, fiesty and

shrewd McDevitt is not one to slink in unnoticed, and her arrival could

hardly be more timely for the venerable Broadcasters’ Audience Research

Board.



The bureaucratic and secretive BARB is the gatekeeper to the entire

airtime trading mechanism, delivering viewing data for programmes and

commercials via one of the world’s most sophisticated and reliable

audience measurement systems.



But BARB is now delicately poised on a digital knife-edge. The reality

of hundreds of TV channels viewed in millions of multi-set homes, with

timeshift, pay-per-view and a variety of delivery platforms has

concocted a big headache for a system which currently measures

minute-by-minute audience ratings on a handful of channels.



Now that the new chief executive is in place, debate on what BARB should

be measuring in the future, how much the industry is willing to pay and

how the bill should be divided up, will begin in earnest. Then comes a

new specification for the BARB contracts (to establish a representative

panel of viewers, install measuring equipment and collect and publish

the viewing data).



The big bullet that BARB has to bite is whether it should attempt to

measure minute-by-minute ratings for more than a handful of mainstream

channels. With BSkyB, Flextech, Channel 4 and Channel 5 now having a say

on the BARB board, and agencies looking divided on the issue, things

could get quite interesting.



As the person responsible for whipping everything into mutually

acceptable shape, McDevitt has plenty of experience. Years at the

arse-end of ITV (Westward Television, Trident Television, Gram-pian,

Westcountry) have helped McDevitt develop balls that would give many an

ITV salesman a run for his money, while her reputation for laddish

pursuits - golfing, boozing and shooting are among her pastimes -

suggests she’ll be more than a match for the guys at BARB.



The convent-educated McDevitt, once known for short-skirts and cleavage,

had a varied run-in to advertising, including stints in the civil

service, the electricity board and as a trainee chartered surveyor,

before landing at the old Trident TV in the traffic department. She

bounced around the smaller ITV companies until Westcountry was bought by

Carlton in 1996, bowing out last year and spending the interim as a

consultant for a variety of media ventures.



Her natural home for years may have been second-division ITV, in

companies not known for their smart selling, but Jerry Hill, the chief

executive of TSMS, believes the insider knowledge of BARB that McDevitt

gained there will be invaluable. ’Caroline has enormous practical

experience of BARB from a market perspective and this will prove

invaluable in adapting the system to meet the challenge of the digital

age.’



And while her direct and rather uptight manner have not always won

people over, McDevitt has clocked up her share of supporters with her

application and energy - qualities she’ll certainly have to dust down

for BARB.



’Yes, this job will require a lot of energy,’ McDevitt admits, neatly

dodging any suggestion that her relative youth will come as a refreshing

change at the board. ’There are new shareholders round the BARB table, a

new contract to sort out and a new broadcasting environment.’



All of which, in truth, helped attract her to the job in the first

place.



On the surface it seems a little strange that someone who left

Westcountry with a handsome sum in her handbag should be drawn to the

BARB post. But McDevitt insists that BARB’s imminent relaunch gives her

scope to make her mark. ’I was looking for a role where everything was

new,’ she explains, ’and BARB is about to enter new territory.’



For her own relaunch into the media market, McDevitt has a clear

ambition - to position BARB as an essential tool in the broader context

of the communications industry rather than simply a headache for media

researchers.



’I want to try to take BARB off the distress purchase agenda,’ she

admits.



’Essentially, we have to put it on everybody’s wider agenda because BARB

will be critical to the making, measuring, buying and selling of TV in

the future.’



THE MCDEVITT FILE



1978: Trident TV, trainee in traffic department



1979: Westward TV, sales executive



1982: Grampian TV, sales controller



1990: TVMM, sales controller for Grampian



1991: Westcountry TV, commercial director



1998: Chief executive, BARB.



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