It is rare for arcane audience measurement issues to take center stage, but that is just what has happened in the U.K. as YouTube has had its attempts to join BARB (the joint industry service responsible for measuring TV audiences) rejected. The facts seem to be that YouTube approached BARB with a view to joining the club. BARB has clearly laid out rules for membership; which YouTube isn’t happy with. So there’s a stand-off and no deal.
The headlines around this story make this all sound rather more confrontational than I suspect it is. “YouTube’s BARB Bid Rejected” was one Campaign headline; “No End in Sight for TV vs YouTube Battle” was another.
In those places where media research experts gather to discuss such matters, BARB is rightly seen as a gold standard amongst measurement systems. Simply managing to keep the various broadcasters, let alone advertisers and agencies aligned is a super-human feat in its own right; maintaining relevance while ensuring that the technical demands of a highly complex world are tackled satisfactorily is much harder than it looks (and to me it looks bloody hard).
BARB should be proud of its achievements; under its CEO Justin Sampson and Chairman Nigel Sharrocks it has grown to be more approachable and much more forward-looking than its predecessor JICTAR. The simple fact that the usual suspects have had little reason to moan recently speaks volumes.
So, should BARB embrace YouTube?
It’s really the wrong question. YouTube has been engaged in an anti-TV strategy for years. Its executives come up with all sorts of apples-to-oranges comparisons alongside fairy-tale claims that ever-larger proportions of TV budgets should flow their way. If nothing else, YouTube’s PR department keeps Thinkbox gainfully employed, as they swat away the latest “data” with remarkably good grace.
Many of YouTube's audience-related claims fall into the fake news category, whereas BARB’s adherence to the highest standards and the most advanced techniques make them the equivalent of the best investigative journalism. Rather than wondering whether BARB should embrace YouTube, we should be asking whether YouTube (and indeed Facebook, whose latest measurement woes have been exposed this week) are prepared to be measured by an objective third party using well-defined and widely accepted principles.
Discussing and agreeing on such as “what constitutes a view?” may seem to some like debating how many angels can dance on the head of a pin, but any measurement system needs to be built on solid building blocks. This is not to say that these core principles can’t and shouldn’t evolve, with attention being paid to how people view YouTube versus how they view TV. But surely if you want to join any club you have to accept certain key principles and then work to evolve them from within?
BARB would be diminished if it simply rolled over and accepted YouTube’s rules and definitions -- and if BARB’s standards slip then we all slide backwards.
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