Media Lifeline: Barb

Fragmentation of TV viewing habits has forced the audience measurement body to adapt.

January 2002: Meltdown. A decade earlier, Barb's botched move to a new measurement system had caused chaos in the airtime trading market. Ten years on, the research community proves it has learned little when Barb's upgrade from a panel of 3,000 to one with more than 5,000 respondents is handled in a similar fashion. Days after the launch, with the system churning out nonsensical results, reporting has to be suspended

October 2003: In September 2002, Nick Phillips, Barb's chairman, is replaced by Nigel Walmsley, an ex-Carlton deputy chief. In July 2003, Barb's chief executive, Caroline McDevitt, resigns. She is replaced in October by Carlton's planning director, Bjarne Thelin.

March 2005: Barb updates its service to record time-shifted viewing on personal video recorders such as Sky+. This part of the service later runs into trouble and reporting is suspended following some quality control issues. Meanwhile, the organisation begins a consultation process, called Future into View, asking users and stakeholders how Barb should evolve - and remain the "gold standard" currency of media research.

December 2006: Findings of the first stage of the Future into View process are published. Advertisers and agencies say they need an even bigger panel size to cope with increased fragmentation of viewing. After all, Sky's own Skyview panel includes 20,000 homes. Advertisers also call for Barb to introduce new technology to measure all broadcast media, in and out of home.

July 2007: As Barb prepares to issue a new contract spec to research companies, agencies say they are paying too much for a system that favours the interests of broadcasters over those of advertisers. Thelin says this posturing is "routine".

Fast forward ...

December 2007: With Barb hours away from awarding new contracts to take effect in 2010, Google drops a bombshell when it offers, at minimal apparent cost to advertisers, to manage a research system that combines digital data (with all due emphasis given to the websites of newspaper and magazine publishers) with radio and TV audience measurement. This splits the ad industry, with the IPA unable to agree on a response.