Mark Ritson’s persistent questioning (MW last week) of how BARB’s “ratings” currency is used is highly entertaining, as well as illuminating. To compound his concerns, my understanding has always been that there is a conservative 40 per cent margin for error in BARB’s ability to measure the number of people in a room (let alone the TV “audience”), given the short-lived novelty of the measurement systems. How many times can one person really be asked the same question by a piece of plastic (“Are you really here?”) before losing any patience they may once have had?
But Ritson is perhaps missing the point. Anyone, outside or inside the industry, knows that because BARB is all there is, all advertisers suffer or benefit to the same degree. It is only the explosion in non-ITV channels, and the related shrinkage in ITV’s share of viewing, that is shedding unwanted light on this long-accepted mechanism, in much the same way as Kelvin MacKenzie is having some fun with Rajar.
The debate is not about audience figures. It never really was. It is about money, and more precisely about slices of the huge TV budget cake.