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
"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
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
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
"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
THE MCDEVITT FILE
Trident TV, traffic department trainee
Westward TV, sales executive
Grampian, sales controller
Grampian, TVMM sales controller
Westcountry TV, commercial director
Barb, chief executive