Tracking ratings for BBC programmes

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Like many people of my age I love to watch The Apprentice - but as life gets busier I can't always be in at 9pm on a Wednesday night to watch it. Luckily I have a PVR (Personal Video Recorder), and even if I forget to record it or series link it I can always catch it on the iPlayer. And if I don't do any of those things there is also a narrative repeat on BBC1 on Sunday night.

However, what makes life convenient for me as a viewer can make it a nightmare as someone whose job it is to keep across the ratings for BBC programmes. Life used to be so simple - we would get the BARB overnight figures on a Thursday morning and know pretty much the final reckoning on how the programme had performed. Now these overnights are only part of the picture.

'Consolidation' as it is called (adding in the videoed/PVR'd figures for 7 days after broadcast) has been included in the BARB service for some years and there are rules that the TV industry agree on. But the audience can now access our content in so many different ways - do we consistently add this consumption to get a total picture of performance? What about narrative repeats? And what about those who watch on iPlayer - shouldn't they also be accounted for? And what about if the schedulers decide to repeat a programme several weeks later - shouldn't this be added in at the end of the year in the final reckoning for that programme? If we are not careful we in Audience Research will be spending a lot of time with our calculators out and even then we may miss some vital part of the picture. The audience increasingly don't care when or where they see a programme - and we need to keep up with them.

To address this increasing complexity we at the BBC are in the early stages of developing a systematic way of tracking a programme's performance over its lifecycle. Every time it is available to be watched by the public (live broadcast, recorded and played back, repeated, or watched on demand) we are able to add in the extra audience - and over time accumulate the total consumption of that programme. This isn't quite as simple as it sounds - to add in the iPlayer viewing figures we don't just take the number of views or requests but we account for the actual amount of the programme they have watched so we have an equivalent 'average audience' to make it equivalent to the way linear TV audiences are reported. And our iPlayer stats just measure the numbers of streams/downloads - they don't take account of how many are watching that stream or download - so we also apply an estimated factor based on other survey data to account for this. These refinements ensure that we get a consistent measure of total consumption of a programme across different platforms and allow us to add them together with greater confidence.

This is all very well for us audience geeks, but how will we get 'overnight addicted' TV types to take notice? Well we've decided to create a new metric - 7 days after the day of broadcast (the same as the current BARB consolidation window) which we are calling Live Plus 7 and which will include all the viewings (live or recorded) across conventional television and on demand. This single Live Plus 7 figure will be available around 10 days after broadcast and we will ensure that it is fed systematically into the business each day for each programme - so people won't have to wait too long to get at it. We will also continue to accumulate audience viewings for that programme beyond that date so we can look at how many watched over a longer period. This isn't meant to be a substitute for BARB - the existing BARB currency is at the heart of what we are doing and I know they are taking steps on an industry-wide basis to increasingly reflect the changing reality of viewing - but it is an approach that will work for the BBC now in helping integrate linear TV and iPlayer consumption and ensure we get a true measure of a programme's impact.

So what does this approach tell us about how many watched The Apprentice? Well for episode one 6 million watched it live as it went out, and a further 900,000 watched it back the same day - both figures already accounted for in the overnights. But over the subsequent 7 days a further 3.1m watched the same episode either from a recording, on iPlayer or from the narrative repeat - giving a Live Plus 7 figure of over 10 million. Episodes 2 and 3 also accumulated to above the 10 million mark. For a channel like BBC3 where narrative repeats are more widely used and the audience are more iPlayer savvy it is even more important - the first episode of the comedy Him and Her went from an overnight of 0.8m to a Live Plus 7 figure of 2.5m. So although I'd be the first to say that the overnights still do matter, they increasingly don't tell the whole story - and our new approach goes some way towards filling in the gaps.

Next year we plan to start revealing this information by publishing some of this Live Plus 7 information each month in a similar fashion to the way we announce BBC iPlayer stats now.

David Bunker is the Head of Research for BBC Vision

Read more about the BBC TV end of year figures announced today by Director of BBC Vision, Jana Bennett on the Press Office website.

Kevin Bakhurst, the controller of the BBC News Channel and the BBC News at One and the deputy head of the BBC Newsroom, has blogged about the viewing figures for the BBC News Channel. To read his blog in full and to comment, head over to the Editor's blog.

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