Barb warns YouTube amid measurement row

Barb warns YouTube amid measurement row
Impasse: Barb CEO Justin Sampson, left, and YouTube UK&I MD sales Phil Miles

Despite publicly advocating for well-established cross-media measurement standards, YouTube has been unable to integrate into the Barb system and now faces restrictions.

A row has erupted between YouTube and Barb Audiences which has thrown into jeopardy the prospect of bringing the global video-sharing giant into the UK TV measurement system.

Barb, which has measured UK TV for four decades with measurement standards agreed by broadcasters and agencies, has given the global video-sharing giant a two-week deadline to clarify how it will make its internal systems compatible with Barb data for online video.

The Media Leader can reveal that YouTube, the world’s biggest online video sharing platform, has been given access to Barb’s commercial spot logs, which forms the basis of how TV ads are traded in the UK. However, Barb has now decided to enforce “restrictions” on Google’s use of its commercial spot logs until this impasse over measurement standards can be agreed.

Following changes introduced by Barb to its rate card for 2023, The Media Leader understands that YouTube is in ongoing discussions with Barb on the suitability of using Barb data to power its cross-media solutions as part of its annual licence.

Barb has privately alleged that YouTube’s planning tools do not use Media Rating Council cross-media standards for online video impressions. The standards, which came into force in September 2019, state that an ad is considered viewed if 100% of its pixels are on a user’s screen for two seconds. This is despite the company’s UK & Ireland head of sales Phil Miles writing in The Media Leader last month that  “we [YouTube] strongly support the MRC viewable impression standard as the basis for reach and frequency in cross-media measurement.”

The Media Leader can also reveal:

  • Google has been unable to make a firm commitment to a Barb licence that enables it to integrate Barb data in to its first-party data planning tools.
  • Barb has rejected a 12-month extension request from Google after having already been granted a three-month “adjustment period” for the tech giant to start using Barb data for campaign exposure in its first-party planning tools.
  • Google asked for this extension so it can “update its first-party planning tools to use impressions data in line with MRC’s cross-media measurement standards”.
  • Barb CEO Justin Sampson told shareholders he was “surprised” MRC standards were not already integral to YouTube’s planning systems, given YouTube’s public commitment on the issue.

The Google-owned platform’s apparent failure to incorporate MRS measurement standards has led to an apparent standoff as YouTube negotiates a licence to become part of Barb.

A recent email sent by Barb CEO Justin Sampson to Barb shareholders, seen by The Media Leader, details an extraordinary set of what Sampson called “stumbling blocks” in Google’s pursuit of a Barb licence.

“Google’s recent public statement about the importance of measuring all video — without qualifying on the basis of subjective signals — goes against the grain of our recent industry-wide consultation,” Sampson wrote to shareholders in an email on 31 March.

Sampson added: “It’s incompatible for Barb to allow our commercial-spot logs to be used in planning tools that use neither our viewing data nor MRC cross-media standards for online-video impressions. So we will now enforce restrictions on Google’s use of our commercial logs.”

YouTube did not comment.

‘Fit-for-TV’ measurement?

Last October, before its autumn upfronts events, YouTube UK announced that 30 million people watch its content on a TV set each month. While that figure was based YouTube figures for “total TV viewing”, The Media Leader understands that this 30 million figure is far higher than Barb estimates of how many people watch YouTube on TVs in the UK each month.

A source described that figure as “being closer to 17 million” when using Barb’s panel measurement of YouTube.

Online video platforms such as YouTube and streaming giants Netflix and Disney+ have sought Barb licences in recent years as advertisers demand greater transparency and standardisation for online video. Audiences have migrated to online video from linear TV over the last decade and this process sped up during the Covid-19 pandemic as people stayed at home consuming significantly more media on internet devices, including smart TVs.

In recent months Barb, a 42-year-old measurement company created by UK TV broadcasters to independently measure TV audiences, has widened its remit to measure “fit-for-TV content” in order to begin welcome streaming platforms Netflix and Disney+, each of which has launched cheaper subscription tiers funded by advertising. Independently verified audience measurement enables media owners to charge a higher premium for spots due to the reassurance it gives advertisers that the ads placed around a platform’s programming have been seen, and by particular audience groups.

YouTube was a partipant in a Barb consultation about how to define an industry-wide consensus on TV-like content. YouTube is also MRC accredited, giving customers access to the results of MRC audits.

Barb has also begun measuring a very narrow amount of programming on YouTube as part of its panel-based measurement, in which content viewed on televisions is tracked via a device placed on a Barb panel household’s internet router. Channel 4’s programming on YouTube is being measured by Barb, as are key programmes such as the Champions League Final livestream on BT Sport’s channel.

A Barb spokesperson said: “Barb is the industry’s standard for understanding what people watch. We provide an agreed single source of TV advertising campaign performance. Our rate card, which applies to all clients, prohibits the use of our commercial-spot logs to generate TV campaign reach and frequency from non-Barb sources of viewing data.

“We are open — subject to auditing — to our clients combining our viewing data with other sources for the purposes of cross-platform measurement. The auditing is to ensure other sources adhere to industry-agreed standards, such as the MRC’s Cross-Media Audience Measurement Standards published in September 2019.

“We are working with Google to establish how it can use Barb’s industry-standard viewing data in a way that’s compatible with how all other licensees are using our data under the terms of our rate card.”

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