MEDIA: HEADLINER - A steady hand keeping hold of Barb's new panel information. The delay of Barb's panel system has not left its CEO perturbed

Barb's chief executive, Caroline McDevitt, has the appearance of a

senior female police officer - the TV audience research equivalent of

Helen Mirren in Prime Suspect. She has a reputation for being

hard-working, focused and no-nonsense, all of which, given the current

situation at Barb, are more necessary than ever.



Once considered a dusty and austere backwater, Barb has recently been

dragged into the national headlines through the suspension of TV

audience data, causing problems for media agencies and TV stations that

rely on its supposed "gold standard" information.



Some have even said that the lack of data drags an already beleaguered

£3 billion industry into further disrepute.



But McDevitt dismisses the criticism levelled at her from these

quarters.



"Don't be swayed by what you read in the press," she says. "Nothing has

gone wrong and there have been no glitches. It's hard to get consensus

from the industry and we've all been working pretty hard to make sure

that the new panel and the new technology works from the start to the

finish."



The "federal state" nature of representatives from the TV industry on

the Barb board has meant that McDevitt has been forced to get these

competitors to agree, which has undoubtedly hindered the process.



While these delays have been frustrating for media agencies, which have

had to revert to the traditional elements of guesswork and judgment to

track the fortunes of their clients' campaigns, McDevitt is convinced

that the wait will be worth it.



"Look, we've been managing the most fundamental change to Barb in 30

years with the introduction of a brand new panel, and there's been no

blueprint to work from. This is a world first," she says.



Observers have levelled specific criticism at ATR, the company

responsible for installing the new technology in the homes of the

panellists, but McDevitt thinks this is a little unjust.



"Clearly ATR is running late in installing the new equipment, but any

contractor which picked up the contract would have issues as this is

uncharted territory. There is no off-the-shelf system and bespoke

solutions have had to be created."



The lack of such solutions meant the parallel system, with the old panel

running alongside the new, could not be run for the four-week period

that was originally intended. This has meant that the release of data

has had to be put back in order to verify the data, a process that

currently occupies most of McDevitt's time.



McDevitt joined Barb to prepare it for the successful tender for the

contract back in 1999.



She brought with her a sales pedigree, honed by selling remote ITV

stations such as Westward TV, Grampian and, more recently, Westcountry

TV. It was at Westcountry TV that she reportedly made a small fortune

when the station was taken over by Carlton in 1997, and the equity

holders (of which she was one) were given pay-offs. But McDevitt refused

to just take the money and disappear from the media scene.



"I joined Barb because I knew the people working here from my TV days

and thought my commercial experience would be useful in bringing good

business practice to the organisation," she says.



Certainly under her stewardship the organisation has gone through more

fundamental changes than it has ever encountered during its previous

30-year existence. As well as preparing the tender document, new board

members were recruited to take account of the changing shape of the TV

industry.



Nick Milligan, the deputy chief executive of Channel 5, says: "Us

shareholders are not an easy lot to manage, but Caroline has the

necessary experience to make us behave ourselves and achieve consensus.

Her greatest strengths are her judgment and integrity."



However, much to the chagrin of some, ISBA is still not a member of the

board. To answer criticism that advertisers are not represented at Barb,

McDevitt counters that the IPA is a member and that great efforts have

been made to allay the fears of advertisers through the media

agencies.



"The challenge of working here gets me out of bed in the morning - it's

interesting to be at what some people still consider the 'strange' end

of the business," she says.



McDevitt refuses to be drawn on what the future holds for her once the

new Barb panel has been installed.



"The challenge is far from over, and things are unlikely to settle down

for a few months. I want to see this through to the end of the

introduction process," she says.



McDevitt is optimistic that the new panel could be in place for the next

eight years. That's just as well given the grief it has taken to get

there.



THE MCDEVITT FILE

1978

Trident TV, traffic department trainee

1979

Westward TV, sales executive

1982

Grampian, sales controller

1990

Grampian, TVMM sales controller

1991

Westcountry TV, commercial director

1999

Barb, chief executive



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