The television industry is poised to oust the chairman of Barb, the industry body that measures audiences, after a new system for counting viewers threw up wildly erratic data.
It looks likely that Nigel Walmsley, the former chief executive of Carlton's television operations, has been drafted in to replace the current chairman of the Broadcasters Audience Research Board (Barb), Nick Phillips, who came from the advertising industry. The move was not confirmed yesterday, partly because both Mr Phill-ips and Mr Walmsley were on holiday.
ITV was the most hard hit broadcaster when Barb brought in a new panel to measure the audiences of programmes at the start of this year. In January, Barb figures showed that ITV's adult viewing figures had dropped by a dramatic 25 per cent. Barb also reported a steep drop-off in Channel 4's key target audience of the 16 to 34 age group. Unexpected swings in audience figures have continued throughout the year.
Figures on both the size of a programme's audience and its demographic make-up are the vital statistic used to sell advertising.
Barb has a viewing panel of 5,200 homes, which are equipped with devices that register the programmes being watched or recorded on a video. Panelists also manually enter, on a remote control, the number of viewers that are watching a programme and their ages. Barb is jointly owned by Channel 4, Channel 5, BSkyB, ITV, BBC and the Institute of Practitioners in Advertising.
The system appears to have broken down when Barb changed the entire panel, for the first time in 30 years. It was felt that the old panel had not kept up to date with digital TV. However, the new households had problems in using the equipment and Barb was not able to produce a regionally and demographically representative audience. The panel is still considered imperfect.
It is thought that some Barb shareholders decided that a change at the top was necessary. Barb issued a statement yesterday, saying that its shareholders remained united. However, industry sources said this was not true. ITV appears to have been particularly unhappy with Barb.
As an ex-Carlton man, Mr Walmsley can be expected to be acutely aware of the concerns of ITV.
Barb said: "The whole Barb board and all of its shareholders wish to state unequivocally that all decisions Barb reaches are by consensus and are supported by each and every one of them, equally."
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