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Measuring the race for viewers

Chief executive of BARB Justin Sampson explains how the company continues to futureproof in the face of a fragmenting TV industry

It’s well documented that the big streaming services don’t like revealing their viewing figures. They’re more than happy to announce when a show or film has broken what they deem to be a record (Stranger Things season three being watched by 40 million households worldwide in its first four days is a recent example). But for shows that aren’t rewriting the record books, it’s almost impossible to find out how many viewers they’re attracting.

BARB, the UK television audience measurement currency, is aiming to shed some light on those elusive figures and has recently commissioned Kantar to install new technology into BARB’s panel of homes. The new technology is a router meter which can track video streaming activity from a designated list of BVoD services such as BBC iPlayer, ITV Hub, All 4 etc, SVoD services such as Netflix and Amazon, and online video services, YouTube for example. 

Historically, BARB has relied on in its panel member homes, where the meters are attached to a TV set. According to Justin Sampson, chief executive of BARB, the new router meter is significantly different: “It will identify certain types of internet activity that we’re interested in; it won’t track all internet activity from the home, but it will track essentially what we call a white list of sites that we’re interested in. 

“It means we’ll be able to track activity to internet distributed services regardless of whether these services choose to be measured by BARB or not. Obviously one of the benefits of this technology is that we expect to be able to report aggregate level viewing for services such as Netflix, Amazon, YouTube, etc which to date we haven’t been able to do.

“I should point out that at this stage the kind of technology we’re deploying is only giving us aggregate level viewing time, it won’t actually identify which individual programmes are being watched on Netflix or Amazon. We absolutely recognise there’s an interest in getting hold of that information independently from the services themselves.”

Another key point about the router meters is that they will hopefully be available to measure more than one device at a time, rather than just the big TV set. So for example, it will understand if one viewer is watching YouTube on their phone while another has got Netflix on the main TV. “We are going through some final confirmatory tests of what we will and won’t be able to report, but we are very optimistic,” says Sampson. “I think our initial priority for reporting services such as Netflix, Amazon and YouTube is how much they’re being used on the TV set.

Read the full interview with Justin Sampson in the latest issue of TVBEurope.