Fall in UK TV Viewing ‘Not as Extreme’ as Press Reports, Claims IPA

11 February 2002

BARB (Broadcasters' Audience Research Board), the British TV audience measurement system jointly owned by the BBC, ITV, BSkyB, Channel 4, Channel 5 and the Institute of Practitioners in Advertising, has released a new analysis of viewing data.

This, says the IPA, “shows that the much publicised drop in TV viewing ascribed to the new ratings system is not as extreme as reported in the press.”

Using the week of December 23 as a basis for comparison, overall average hours of viewing fell by 5%, (as reported by BARB in December) from around 25 hours per person to just under 24 hours. Throughout January, however, there was a general increase of 8% in viewing levels, lifting total viewing to over 25 hours per person – broadly in line with expectations.

In the important 16-34 age group, the same week produced an apparently steep decline of 6%, exacerbated by January’s universe changes. But over the past six weeks, this category has increased by 13% as the panel ‘re-education’ process ensures that the 4,000 panellists register their own and their guests' viewing.

Explains BARB chief executive Caroline McDevitt: “The panel is being brought up to full strength across the coming months. However, as it is currently structured the panel is providing a robust and balanced sample, and currently at just under 4,000 panel homes, it equates to over 9,000 individuals. This is more than enough to deliver reliable figures.”

BARB today also released the full ‘gold standard’ data – live and recorded viewing combined – allowing the backlog of data to be made concurrently available to all subscribers alongside the latest numbers. This will enable BARB data users to make their own in depth analysis.

The IPA also points out that atypical programme schedules during the first few weeks of the upgraded system made audiences almost impossible to predict and equally difficult to interpret. Now that post-Christmas and New Year viewing patterns have stabilised, shares have returned to levels similar to those recorded by the previous panel.

Comments BARB board member (and Channel 5 deputy chief executive) Nick Milligan: “Many industry observers appear to have fallen into the trap of comparing January 2002 viewing shares with those recorded either in January 2001 or across the whole of last year. A comparison with the final quarter of 2001 demonstrates far greater continuity of share than many seem prepared to acknowledge.”

Data sourced from: IPA Online (UK); additional content by WARC staff