Comparability without contradiction is crucial in our era of data abundance

Comparability without contradiction is crucial in our era of data abundance

Without greater care for standards and joint industry collaboration, the confusion of competing audience claims will damage the shared language that allows us all to make progress.

Wow, here we are in June already. It’s time for that mid-year review that, for us, considers how Barb is meeting expectations for delivering our industry’s standard for understanding what people watch.

A common word in our mid-year review is “beyond”.

With the ongoing commitment of the IPA and its member agencies, Barb has gone beyond the broadcasters. Amazon has joined Disney and Netflix as active participants, while our audience-centric measurement also reports in-home viewing to platforms such as YouTube and TikTok.

We’ve gone beyond linear. Having reported audiences to on-demand programmes for many years, the addition of CFlight means we enable a virtuous cycle of campaign optimisation across linear and VOD services. Campaign validation through CFlight is complemented by our pre-campaign planning system, Advanced Campaign Hub.

We’re also going beyond our panel of homes that represents the breadth of UK society. This high-quality panel is critical to answer the “who” and “how many people” questions that are intrinsic to audience-measurement needs. Supported by more big data sources, Barb Panel Plus is the next generation of Dovetail Fusion, our original data-integration strategy that’s been delivering since 2018.

And last month’s announcement that we’re working closely with the Media Rating Council shows we’re looking beyond the UK. This recognises the international nature of the conversation about standards in audience measurement.

Barb joins Media Rating Council

Era of data abundance

Barb’s innovation programme is designed so our data continues to fit in a landscape increasingly dominated by digital-distribution technologies and global businesses. On behalf of our industry, we’ve been preparing for what’s coming and this year’s progress validates our careful planning.

A year ago, Barb took little persuading to support the IPA as it launched Signals in the Noise. The event, and accompanying publication, brought to life the need for trusted evidence in an era of data abundance. And it set out how the industry has reached a pivot point.

There’s widespread recognition that the profusion of data about media audiences hasn’t led to an equivalent increase in knowledge. This is challenging when our collective experience shows the assessment of outcomes are truly comparable when inputs such as audience data are also comparable.

This is why audience measurement is high on our industry’s priority list. Day-to-day accountability of investment in media advertising relies on a shared understanding of how many people, and what type of people, will be, or have been, exposed to commercials. And in what editorial context.

Apples with apples

A few months after the publication of Signals in the Noise, a provocative article in The Media Leader asked if Project Origin is becoming our industry’s equivalent of HS2. Whichever side of this question you instinctively fall on, a considered assessment should take into account both value for money and whether the original destination remains the same.

For the record, I couldn’t work at Barb without believing that buyers and sellers should have equal access to apples-with-apples audience data that reduces the opportunity for conflicting audience claims. In other words: comparability, with no fear of contradiction.

Is Origin the media industry’s version of HS2?

Barb has to support any audience-measurement initiative designed to meet this objective.

As a joint industry initiative, Barb has been forged in the fire of consensus-building. Along with other joint industry currencies (JICs), we’re a highly cost-effective product of industry-wide collaboration.

This collaborative investment in Barb doesn’t just support the reporting of campaign delivery. Our data is used to plan campaigns across linear and VOD services, to support accountability for the £8bn that’s invested each year in programme content and to hold advertisers and broadcasters to account for how they fulfil their societal responsibilities.

And JICs aren’t just an effective way of marshalling industry resource in audience measurement. We provide a shared language for what success looks like. Not having a shared language raises the risk that investment accountability is undermined by false equivalences. Unwittingly or passively, we already find ourselves in this situation.

False equivalence

Can you effectively allocate media budgets to optimise reach when some media channels are assessed on the basis of people watching the whole ad and others are based on ads being on a screen for a matter of seconds? Is your post-campaign validation meaningful if the method for calculating campaign exposure isn’t coherent with your pre-campaign planning tools?

You won’t be surprised to hear Barb championing the role of standards to overcome the dangers of false equivalence.

Our commitment to working more closely with the Media Rating Council reflects our belief that collaboration is a good thing. Co-operating with other industry bodies — both here in the UK and internationally — will help develop standards that meet the needs of all parties.

And just because we have standards, this doesn’t necessarily mean everyone aligning behind one metric. That said, comparability is really tough in the face of a multitude of metrics. It takes time and resource to distil complex data into a narrative that supports investment accountability.

Shared language

The tyranny of choice pushes Barb away from the idea of boundless configurability and towards the idea of a finite menu of set standards. Fewer metrics not only improve the usability of data, they lead to a better shared language around what’s successful — and what’s not.

In any marketplace, a shared language removes friction from conversations around the cost and value of goods and services. For media advertising, finding and maintaining this language in an era of data abundance is tricky, but vital.

Languages don’t stand still and Barb is already planning the next stage of our evolution.

High on the agenda is how we move to second-by-second reporting. This isn’t straightforward, given the regulatory, technical and logistical issues that need to be navigated. We’ve started the process and will share more details as we make more progress.

Yet progress is difficult, if not impossible, without a shared language. The Tower of Babel is synonymous with the confusion that comes from people not being able to communicate effectively. And — spoiler alert — perhaps we should remember the Tower of Babel was never finished.

Justin Sampson squareJustin Sampson is CEO of Barb

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