Pass the remote - it's time to change the channel on TV metrics

"Barb has managed to bypass what is now a huge chunk of the TV viewing ecosystem"

Earlier this week, the UK’s TV ratings body, Barb, revealed that online video services such as Facebook and YouTube still have a way to go before they can become accredited. In one fell swoop, Barb has managed to bypass what is now a huge chunk of the TV viewing ecosystem.

We cannot ignore the fact that viewing behaviour is changing. Just last month the BBC admitted that young people are spending more time watching Netflix than all of its BBC TV services and listening to streaming services over BBC radio stations. The way TV channels interact with online video services is also changing. Research by Tubular Labs recently revealed that television content on YouTube continues to grow 46% year-on-year since October 2015.

TV channels cannot afford to ignore online platforms. Further research Tubular Labs did discovered that the success of Britain’s most-loved programmes goes far beyond the TV channels’ own platforms. For example, in February on YouTube alone Britain’s Got Talent received 51m views, Kitchen Nightmares 47m views and The Graham Norton Show pulled in 32m views.

Barb data is increasingly only telling half of the story. As the viewing climate continues to digitise, and therefore diversify, a measurement system like Barb ­– which was introduced in 1981, long before the internet became mainstream - is becoming a ‘square-peg-round-hole’ issue. As a result, media owners are missing out on seeing the bigger picture of who’s consuming their content.

The introduction of a new metric that TV channels can use to capture the full lifecycle of a programme is well overdue. The metric would need to reflect an audience’s actual viewing behaviour, rather than that of a limited panel sample.

Although this sounds like a tall ask, there are metrics that currently exist across all platforms that can be used to create standardised and comparable data sets. At Tubular Labs we’ve created benchmarks for social video, but without viewing duration it’s hard to compare YouTube and Facebook with TV.

Take watch time – wouldn’t it be brilliant if a TV company could see exactly how long people have watched a programme for, in total, regardless of platform? If this was the metric used then we would have clear cross-industry benchmarks that could be used to build and inform a common understanding of success.

Couple this with actual viewership – combining online video services with the TV channels’ own metrics – and we would start to see a standardised set of metrics that TV channels can use to confidently assess performance.

So how likely is it that we will see a change from the current system?

Some channels have already begun to address the problem directly themselves. Earlier this month NBC Universal adopted a custom video advertising metric with which to measure advertising impressions across all viewing platforms, including live, on-demand, broadcast TV and digital.

However, to establish a trusted standard, measurement needs to be led by a third party. Today there’s a knowledge gap between traditional and new media, owing to the chasm between how television and digital viewing metrics are defined. In order to achieve true 'apples to apples' comparability across viewing platforms, we need a shared measurement methodology.

I believe a longer-term solution will be welcomed by the broadcasters, who are becoming more progressive in the sense that they increasingly don’t see digital platforms as threat, but as an opportunity. The hurdle they currently face is providing the business case that investment in the platforms are worth the time and budget – in which case a new, clearer, cross-platform metric would be a help, rather than a hindrance.

We will, however, face issues when it comes to third party data verification – which online platforms do not currently have. In order for this to work, online video platforms need to work to identify trusted third parties and reach a compromise that will make its data comparable to what is currently available.

Change is inevitable, but it’s going to be a long road. Achieving measurement ‘comparability’ between television and these new platforms won’t be easy and will involve platforms opening up watch time and unique user data, which may take some persuading.

Overall, the methodology for measuring TV is overdue its next stage of evolution, to more accurately reflect how people watch TV today. After all, why would you limit yourself to a panel of 5,000 homes when there is a wealth of accurate data about viewing behaviour available online?

Denis Crushell is vice president of EMEA at Tubular Labs

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