RTS Cambridge Speech 15 Sept 2011

Richard Marks

Audience data is now hitting us from every direction – PeopleMeter data, server data, Return Path data, social media data, CRM data. The big question is how can we harness its power to ensure Return on Insight and not be submerged by it?

Will data become a jealously guarded weapon to provide competitive advantage, or will the long established ‘shared currency’ system still prevail? To set a context for that debate, let’s take a ten minute trip through the TV cosmos, to understand what BARB data currently does, where its outer limits lie and what else is ‘out there’ To do that we’re going to look at TV viewing data in a way you may not have seen it before. Not as a ‘horse race’ as Eric Garland put it, but let’ s train our BARB telescope on the UK television universe.


All the data I am going to show you here is from a full year of BARB TV data, the first full year of the new panel that my company, Kantar Media set up. We can see each of the main channel groups and the larger the “Sun”, the higher that broadcaster’s 2010 audience share –The Sun’s gravitational forces are taking account of the social grade and age skews of their audience.

So BARB can give us the big picture – but let’s turn up our magnification and look at the ITV constellation for example and visualise things in a slightly different way, moving away from the ‘lists’ that Eric Garland referred to.


Here we can see the main ITV channel brands, arranged again by channel share and if we take a look at those ‘moons’ around ITV 1…

…in orbit are the top ten shows on ITV1 for 2010 in terms of average audience, with the XFactor the biggest in terms of audience , but Emmerdale viewers are the most loyal to ITV1 and therefore most in its gravitational pull.

Let’s get even more magnification to show BARB as a trading currency – we can look at the asteroid belt of advertisers around X Factor for example in much the same way –  Carphone Warehouse as the sponsor gets a satellite all of its own.  Again the bigger the advertiser the more impacts, but we can see that a significant number of X-Factor supporters were not top 20 ITV1 advertisers – shown in orange. TV as a industry is almost unique in the transparency of its measurement, both in terms of it’s accessibility and its credibility – we all agree that what we see through our telescopes is the same. That has always been its strength compared to, say, internet data. However without that agreement we can’t have a trading currency. But can that survive in a multi-screen multi-data set universe?

Well,  Dawn Airey, our session host, set me a challenge to help set up the debate in the this session which is to show a year in the life of a television episode – so let’s use our data telescope to do that by swinging over to the constellation of Beeb… and specifically the top ten programmes for the year on BBC1.

Again they are arranged by their loyalty to BBC1, so viewers to the 10pm news are the most likely to gravitate towards other BBC1 shows, presumably as they have a straightforward brand loyalty choice at 10pm, and again footie fans are the most promiscuous. But to look at a ‘year in the life’ you can probably guess from the activity around Dr Who that’s where I am going to focus. How far can BARB data build a story here….?

We are going to look at one episode and see how far we get, specifically the season premiere, ‘The Eleventh Hour’ originally broadcast on 3 April 2010 and introducing a new Doctor.  Simon Cowell regenerated into Gary Barlow – or am I getting mixed up? Anyway a tough act to follow, but 10.1million watched that original broadcast, live or via timeshift within 7 days of broadcast. BARB currently doesn’t measure TV viewing beyond 7 days.

However to that 10.1m we can add a further 1.4million who watched BBC3 narrative repeats during the week of broadcast.

And during the rest of the year we can add a further 1.2million viewers for BBC3 repeats, with a further 0.6m for a seasonal repeat back on BBC1 – it’s the gift that keeps on giving. So that gets us via BARB data to a grand year long total of (drumroll….) …13.3m viewers – or to be precise ‘viewings’ as these are aggregate figures. However that’s only part of the story….. to tell that story though, we need to move outside BARB data and train our telescopes elsewhere.. Thanks to the BBC and specifically David Bunker for their help here.

The episode was available on the BBC iplayer for the following weeks – and from time to time throughout the year – and by the end of 2010, BBC server stats show that 2.24m had requested the show, the top episode of the year on iplayer. But these are not viewers, these are requests and we don’t know how many of them were new viewers or ‘Whovians’ watching for the 150th time. The BBC is certainly taking steps to address this with its Live+7 initiative to add in iplayer data and narrative repeats to give a full reflection of a programmes aggregate audience. Meanwhile later this year, online viewing will be rolled out on the BARB panel using a software meter called VirtualMeter, so Eric Garland will be happy that UK measurement at least is moving beyond the big screen

But that’s only the start of it…we have no idea for example how many people bought the episode made available on itunes during the year – it’s still up there in fact. Apple know presumably, but we don’t.

The BBC does know that it sold 280,000 Dr Who DVDs in the UK last year but how many actual viewers to our particular episode did that generate and how many copies are still wrapped in cellophane next to the TV?

If I take Dawn’s request even more literally, how many people would have seen it on in flight entertainment on BA and Virgin throughout the summer?

Meanwhile the Autumn 2010 live arena tour ‘Doctor Who live’ featured the episode heavily as does the Olympia Doctor Who Experience. The BBC has told me that 220,000 tickets were sold across both events – and yes, in the interests of full disclosure I was at both!

One final figure for you – I am reliably told by the BBC that since the series returned over 1 million sonic screwdrivers have been sold worldwide. What isn’t recorded is how many have been stepped on by barefoot cursing Dads….  But that worldwide reference is important as up to now all the figures I have shown you are UK only; we do know the show continues to break records on BBC America and Space Channel in Canada and dozens of other countries in which the episode was shown. The show was the top earner for BBC Worldwide in 2010.

So, clearly we live in a world in which the first broadcast of a TV show is just the beginning of an epic voyage, it’s a voyage that touches on many different data sets and many different definitions, I could add to that 13.3m BARB viewers, but what is the final figure that demonstrates the success of a show – an amalgam of viewers, downloads, sales and bums on seats…? What are the relative values of a viewer, a streamer, a tweeter, a facebook friend or a GetGlue sticker-collector?

What we do know is that as a result many telescopes are now trained on the TV sky at night. Skyview, using Sky’s own Set Top box data has been complementing the granularity of the BARB telescope for five years now. Touchpoints provides a wider context, and Googles’ latest initiative in building a UK three screen panel that will be made available to the industry, adds to the need for this debate about what data is out there and the role of data in the TV business going forward. I am sure that Matt Brittin will talk about Google’s plans here.

Data that gives genuine insights about a programme’s appeal is an asset, but reports from multiple data sets offering conflicting views of success or failure –  something that websites have had to contend with since the dawn of the internet – well that’s actively dangerous. Meanwhile, data that cannot be joined together to show the whole picture can be worse than flying blind on good old intuition and common sense.

Perhaps BARB can be the fulcrum for understanding how these other data sets fit within the TV universe. Realistically we don’t need to roll these data sets together into a huge ball of confusion but rather we need to ensure that we have the context within which we can understand them and take informed decisions. It’s not about surrendering competitive advantage but ensuring compatibility, providing that links and common definitions can be agreed.

With that in mind, BARB has arranged an event called The Bigger Picture at which they are aiming to engage with the industry on this very topic of BARB’s interaction with other data sets. It’s on 4th October in London and if you didn’t get an invite do let me know.

To sum up, building a digital relationship with viewers rather than just counting them is a part of the future, for sure. And yes, data is “the new oil”, “the new black”, call it what you will, but data in isolation, trying to use datasets without an understanding of how they slot into the universe as a whole, could suck us into a research black hole – masters of the minutiae of our own domains but blind to the outside world.

That would leave us all with a highly detailed but totally skewed and dangerous perspective, rather like those ‘New Yorkers View Of The World’ posters so popular a while back. So, how do we make the most of these new measurement tools without death by data? The debate starts now..

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