Tracking The Grand Tour

11 Jan 2017  |  Justin Sampson 
Tracking The Grand Tour

BARB's Justin Sampson explains what the TV audience measurement body is doing - and the problems it faces - tracking viewing across subscription VOD services and online platforms

The Sampson household can't be the only one in the country that has recently been enjoying the return of Clarkson, Hammond and May to a TV screen. Amazon Video launches a new episode of The Grand Tour each week, which has resulted in a rare family appointment to view on a Friday evening.

The high profile launch of The Grand Tour, as well as the arrival of The Crown on Netflix, has resurfaced a question: can BARB track viewing to SVOD services? The good news is that the answer is yes; we have the measurement techniques available. All we need to add is the co-operation of the distribution platforms and/or the rights owners.

Our solution for reporting viewing to non-linear programmes was launched in early 2016, about the same time that BBC3 closed its linear channel. It simply relies on the rights owner providing programme assets that can be stored in the audio reference library that's used to determine what our panel members have watched. So it could be used by the owners of content distributed through any SVOD service.

This kind of independent verification of audiences has been at the heart of BARB's services for over 35 years now. The industry's desire for us to extend the scope of our measurement to new distribution platforms is an endorsement of our currency, which is trusted to evaluate return on investment for both programme and commercial content.

Yet as we deliver solutions for new forms of television and video, we can't compromise on our exacting standards. It's essential that our customers can judge and compare value on a like-for-like basis.

How can relative value be determined if one form of television/video is providing measures based on average duration audience, while another says that the benchmark should be the number of times a video has been viewed for just a few seconds? It's like going to New Covent Garden Market and finding one stall selling metric weights in Euros, while another is selling imperial weights in Sterling.

And BARB doesn't just publish good news; our viewing figures have to be available to all. An independent currency won't meet industry needs if participants can cherry-pick numbers for publication. Transparency and objectivity are critical to any Joint Industry Currency.

Incidentally, we had an enquiry recently from a representative of Amazon about measuring audiences for The Grand Tour, although it came to nothing. I'll leave you to draw your own conclusions.

The question about how BARB measures viewing on Amazon Video and Netflix can be extended to other online platforms such as YouTube and Facebook. We have to acknowledge industry expectations that we deliver comprehensive viewing data, although this inevitably begs the question of how to define the universe.

The definition of television/video lies somewhere on a spectrum. At one end is professionally produced programme content enjoyed by households on large TV sets in the home; this is fuelled by an annual investment of £7.5bn in the production of programme and commercial content. At the other end is a person using a smartphone on the move and seeing online video ads that aren't attached to any form of programme content and are produced, very often, at little cost.

Naturally we have to measure viewing to all programme and commercial content distributed by our established base of broadcast customers. And we need to do this across all platforms and all devices as this represents the vast majority of current monies at risk.

By this definition, we're doing well for all forms of viewing through a TV set. Live viewing to linear broadcast schedules, tick. Timeshift viewing through PVR and on-demand services up to four weeks after broadcast, tick. Dynamically inserted advertising, tick.

BARB has also launched the UK's only fully-audited, joint industry measure of online TV viewing. It's because of this that we can open up our measurement to include viewing to content distributed through any online platform.

Our solution is based on generating census level data from software code that's embedded in the apps used by viewers. We're already doing this for TV player apps that have been developed by UK broadcasters.

Yet we recognise that global platforms don't instinctively want to embed software code that's relevant to just one national marketplace, such as the UK. This is why we're open to working with server data delivered by online platform operators. That said, we have to preserve the independence of our currency by ensuring BARB's standards are applied to both reporting and verification.

We need to be able to report viewing based on average duration audience principles. This is important so that the data are equivalent to both our existing online TV audience currency and also established industry metrics such as average audience and TVRs.

And we need to independently audit the data. We don't publish our online TV viewing data until the software implementation has been audited by ABC. This process goes as far as excluding all viewing from IP addresses located on the business premises of the broadcasters whose programmes are being measured. Naturally, we also audit for the exclusion of non-human traffic.

Post-truth was named 2016's word of the year by Oxford Dictionaries, with good reason. Surging use of the word was stimulated most by political events, although the steady stream of stories about online ad fraud and measurement mishaps shows that ad industry metrics could do with more truthfulness in 2017. BARB is here to deliver the transparency that's necessary to achieve this.

We've been delivering an independent, trusted currency for 35 years and have constantly dealt with fragmentation. We welcome the chance to collaborate with online content distributors to help us deal with the modern form of fragmentation. After all, it takes two to tango.



Justin Sampson is the chief executive of BARB

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