FEATURE15 September 2010

Barb’s research manager tunes us in to TV measurement challenges

Features People

Joe Lewis was recently appointed research manager for the Broadcast Audience Research Board, the UK’s official source of television ratings. He tells us why the UK leads the world in TV measurement and what the future holds for return path data.

Lewis was previously an associate director at GfK NOP Media.

How did you get into market research?
Market research was a natural progression for me. Following studying economics at university, a job in government statistics was an obvious choice. From there my interest and desire to branch out grew and I progressed into media audience research where I’ve been for the last six years in different roles and projects.

What does your new role involve?
My new role covers a broad base of responsibilities, mostly involving ensuring the Barb service adheres to correct research principles and practice. This requires daily correspondence with research contractors on a variety of issues. Secondly I act as a liaison point with Barb stakeholders in providing guidance and support on research questions about the measurement and reporting of Barb data.

What are the main issues in UK television audience measurement and what role will you be playing in solving them?
The continued fragmentation of viewer consumption, both linear and non-linear make the task of robustly measuring viewing all the more important and challenging. My role, working together with the industry and Barb contractors will be to ensure that we have a clearly defined, understood, reliable and accurate measure of the television viewing of the UK population.

What is the next ‘big thing’ in TV measurement?
We now live in a world with potential for granular return path data that we’ve never experienced before, but it doesn’t tell us the who’s, the where’s, the why’s. The next big thing will be the ability to use a variety of data sources to accurately describe the changing nature of how consumers access television content.

How does the UK compare to the rest of the world in terms of TV measurement?
I think it’s fair to say that the UK is one of the world leaders. This is partly a reflection of both the demands of the media marketplace in which we live and also the way in which the UK consumer views content through their television. Barb has continually developed its measurement and indeed has measured seven-day time-shifted viewing since 1991 when many countries to this day still only report ‘live’. We need to be reactive to the changes we see before us which is why we are currently testing as part of an R&D programme ways to measure television content via PCs and laptops and the development of a ‘non-linear’ reporting database dedicated to report content ‘on demand’ items.

What is the most challenging research project you’ve worked on?
I once tried to create a multi-variable regression model to predict football attendances for Nottingham Forest Football Club… that was pretty challenging and furthermore it didn’t work!

Is there anything you’d do differently in your career if you had the chance?
You have to make the best decisions for the circumstances you are in. The main piece of advice I would have given to myself in the past would be not to be afraid to ask questions and admit you don’t know something. There is no shame in being honest and it’s likely that half the people in the room breathe a sigh of relief as they don’t know either

What makes a ‘good’ researcher?
For me, truth and honesty in what you are doing. Be committed to the research and finding the ‘truth’ in what you ask, and be honest in your findings, no matter the client. If you achieve that, then you’re doing just fine in my book.

How has the research business changed in your time?
Respondent engagement. Working for the government, compulsory employer surveys and administrative data meant I needn’t worry about such things but in today’s market, engaging with respondents has become an ever-increasing issue. New techniques, including online research, have opened new doors and avenues but we need to ensure the same due diligence and standards are maintained.

Where would you like to be in ten years?
I’d be lying if I said I didn’t still harbour some dream that Fabio [Capello, England football team manager] will pick up the phone and announce a shock call up, but I think in ten years time at the age of 41 that will be even more unlikely than it is today. That all said and done I hope to be continuing to work on challenging and ever changing projects and hope that I make a worthy and valuable contribution to them. That or Chief Taster for Walkers Crisps.