We all know basic television audience research is going to be more
difficult to compile in the digital age. More channels will mean that
the total television audience will be spread thinner - sometimes to the
point of transparency. Keeping tabs on it will require more
That’s what the BARB funding row over the summer was all about. The
existing set-up is already creaking - and this is with analogue
multi-channel choice currently available in only a quarter of UK homes.
When digital takes hold, how on earth is the system going to cope?
Well, the short answer is that it isn’t. That was the message of a paper
published last week by Sue Read, the marketing and research director of
Laser Sales, and Hugh Johnson, head of research at Channel 4. BARB
research - the industry standard trading currency - won’t be able to
keep up (Campaign, 28 November).
Some channels will have to make do with less audience data and the
result will be a move away from a numbers-based trading system.
Expanding the meter panel won’t be a solution. It will prove too costly
- and, for the smaller stations, an expanded panel would still be unable
to provide minute-by-minute ratings.
Smaller channels and the dayparts on larger channels may find that their
data is aggregated to provide more broad-based information, such as
average reach and total campaign TVRs.
Are Read and Johnson right and, if so, should we be worried?
Of course, some agencies are already working in a post-industry-research
world - for example, Michaelides & Bednash. It takes the target market
for a particular brand and builds a detailed understanding of that
group’s media consumption by using focus groups. In effect, each brand
it works for creates its own proprietary databank - both qualitative and
George Michaelides, a managing partner of Michaelides & Bednash, has
always mistrusted industry research, saying: ’It is produced by the
media owners and the methodologies they choose vastly inflate the
figures. More channels will produce a huge change in the way the market
works. At present, what buyers do is pretty crude haggling and
Of course, Michaelides & Bednash is a strategic media planning
consultancy and isn’t involved in any of the messy stuff at the coal
face of TV buying.
Surely the big TV buying departments will take a different view? Isn’t
the reality that industry benchmarks matter?
Not necessarily. David Cuff, the broadcast director of Initiative Media,
argues that the market will trade with whatever currency it has to hand.
He adds: ’Our network across the Continent already buys without
minute-by-minute ratings data.
If industry ratings data reporting is simplified it will merely place
more importance on proprietary research.’
But Mike Wood, the media director of J. Walter Thompson, says it’s
madness to contemplate a world dominated by client-owned proprietary
’Research costs a lot of money. People will not be able to replicate
BARB with proprietary data.’
Wood says compromise is essential. ’There has to be a solid core of
industry data and I agree that in the run-up to the award of the next
BARB contract there will have to be some trade-offs. We need a single
integrated source of data that gives robust measurements and if that
means we can’t get minute-by-minute data on digital channels, then so be
it. We have to recognise that research costs are already high and we
might not be able to get all the detail we want. But I don’t see any
problem in working with aggregated ratings across the day or across the