The Broadcasters’ Audience Research Board (BARB) is set to switch its TV measurement contract to TNS/Arbitron – a move that is likely to lead to the biggest shake-up in quantifying the medium in almost a decade.TNS is understood to have won the contract to supply BARB with audience data from 2010 based on Arbitron’s controversial Portable People Meter (PPM).
While the PPM offers some advantages over Nielsen’s existing set-top system, concerns have been express- ed over its lack of rigorous testing.
PPMs are mobile phone-sized devices that panellists wear throughout the day. They work by detecting identification codes that can be embedded in the audio portion of any transmission. They can also measure TV watched on the internet, in stores and entertainment venues and at friends’ houses.
Data can be analysed on a minute-by-minute basis and the meters carry a motion sensor; if the device is not being worn the information is sent back to researchers who can disregard the “false” data.
Detractors say that despite pilots the system remains unproven, particularly for TV. Others believe the chance to measure out-of-home viewing will be a boon to some of the more specialised business and news channels.
They also say PPMs are more “futureproof” than the existing system, because of their potential to measure radio and TV – so far resisted by BARB and radio measurement body Rajar – as well as new media outlets such as the internet and mobile TV.
Yet one executive believes the new system could cause fluctuations in viewing figures for ITV, understood to be BARB’s biggest shareholder, which could exacerbate viewing problems on its flagship terrestrial ITV1.
Other BARB shareholders, the BBC, Channel 4, Five, BSkyB and the Institute of Practitioners in Advertising (IPA), may be similarly affected.
The executive points to the six months of “confusion and chaos” that followed the previous switchover in 2002. Others, though, insist that BARB, which is currently trialling a PPM system in London, is well placed to avoid such issues this time.
Another source points to the US, where last year Nielsen Media Research – a 50% partner in the UK’s AGB Nielsen with WPP – said it would not use Arbitron’s PPMs commercially for TV in the US.
Nielsen Media Research said that having spent “millions” on research it concluded the system did not “adequately fulfil” TV measurement requirements. The system is said to consistently under-rate 18- to 44-year-old viewers.
The cost of the system is also higher, leading to fears that the panel size may be reduced at a time when the rise in channels demands a larger panel. In 2006, BARB reported 227 channels, up from three in 1981 when it formed, with hundreds more too small to be counted.
One media executive believes that TNS may have offered the Arbitron system as a “loss leader” to clinch the lucrative contract it lost in 2002, after losing out to Nielsen in a 2000 tender. TNS had previously held the contract for almost 30 years.