The Points of View That Creates Vial Statistics for TV; across the Midlands Thousands of Television Viewers Help to Decide What We Watch by Giving Daily Information for Audience Research

Sunday Mercury (Birmingham, England), November 15, 1998 | Go to article overview

The Points of View That Creates Vial Statistics for TV; across the Midlands Thousands of Television Viewers Help to Decide What We Watch by Giving Daily Information for Audience Research


THEY could be described as real lookers... and they have vital statistics worth billions of pounds.

Thousands of them have their figures eyed up every day as they relax in the comfort of their homes.

But their identity must remain top secret - for the sake of the country's television.

They are the 10,000-strong "armchair army" of unnamed telly addicts who make up national audience panels for the Broadcasters' Audience Research Board (BARB).

A total of 500 addresses in Birmingham - around 800 in the West Midlands - are among those who help compile television viewing figures, those mysterious and seemingly frivolous lists that appear every week in the papers.

Most of us glance at and dismiss them in seconds - but they are vital tools in some of Britain's most fiercely fought broadcasting and advertising battles.

Behind those weekly "top 10" figures is a huge, complicated process of calculation and computation on which rests an estimated pounds 7.5 billion of business.

Bill Meredith is the director of Barb, a joint company of the BBC and Independent Television Association, which compiles viewing figures.

He is under no illusions about the vital work these virtually unpaid television fans do for their country.

"They are terribly important to the television industry and to the manufacturers of commercials," he said.

"Figures affect programme making and scheduling and for commercial television companies they are used as a trading currency by which to buy and sell air time between programmes.

"Around pounds 2.5 billion a year is spent on television advertising, while programme making has a huge budget as well - about pounds 5 billion.

"Shows can be axed or commissioned on the basis of viewing figures. It is a very competitive business. The audience figures we produce are an essential part of all their activities.

"We cannot tell you who the people are who are part of the panels in Birmingham and would not tell anyone. They are promised confidentiality when they agree to take part and we respect that. We want to ensure that no-one can get into their homes and try to influence what the household watches."

So how are these viewing figures actually calculated? …

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