When the BARB price isn’t right

Advertising agencies want to see the forthcoming BARB contract made cheaper.

SBHD: Advertising agencies want to see the forthcoming BARB contract made cheaper.

BARB is the most formidable research project into human behaviour in the world. If the same energy and funds were channelled into studying criminal behaviour or educational ability Britain would undoubtedly be a safer or better-read country.

The present BARB contract came into existence in May 1991. A host of new features increased costs to agencies and broadcasters by 25 to 30 per cent.

The total cost of running the audience measurement part of BARB is about £5m to £6m and, although it was popular at first, agencies are looking at ways to reduce this expense.

The tender document for the 1998 contract will be put together over the next six months. Agencies are putting their views to the Institute of Practitioners in Advertising by way of a questionnaire, and the IPA is considering a number of options but has yet to make any firm policy decisions.

One suggestion which agencies are keen on is the replacement of “consolidated” viewing figures – those that take into account video-taped viewing – with a formula. Consolidated figures add only about three per cent to a programme viewing levels, but they cost as much as 20 per cent of the BARB expenditure to collect.

Reducing costs is one reason for changing BARB. But a large problem for those creating the tender document is that technologically driven change is about the only definite thing on the television horizon. Digital television, video-on-demand and interactivity may or may not bring increased audience fragmentation or more niche channels.

If more niche channels are created there are those who question whether it will be possible to achieve comprehensive, minute-by-minute data.

“You get to the stage where the light is no longer worth the candle. Time buyers may want audience reach and frequency figures across their whole campaign on a niche channel, but where the spot rate is very cheap you do not need spot-by-spot audience data,” says Carat Research director Alan Copage

Copage believes diaries of 15-minute viewing – as used for radio research – are sufficient for some channels, both now and in the future.

“One way of dealing with the future is to put it off for another two years so that we have a better idea of what it looks like,” says Mediacom research director Doug Read. He is referring to the proviso in the BARB contract to roll it over for another two years.

“By 1998 the peoplemeters will have been paid for and the last two years will only have running costs. That would make the whole nine years cheaper and agencies feel better about the cost implications for the next contract,” says Read.

The problem with rolling over the contract is that the cost-conscious BBC is understood to be keen to see the BARB panel reduced by as much as 50 per cent. And it may not wish to wait another two years either.

The theme of all these issues is how much agencies are prepared to pay for BARB research as true for qualitative as quantative research. The next six months should see some interesting developments.

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