First created over 40 years ago by ATV, BARB Protem Limited was incorporated as a ‘non-profit’ company limited by Guarantee in 1998, changing it’s name to ‘Broadcasters Audience Research Board Limited’ in August 1999. The company currently has 6 guarantors; BBC, ITV, Ch. 4, Ch. 5, Sky and The Institute Of Practitioners In Advertising (IPA). Until December 2021, UKTV (wholly owned by BBC Studios) was also a guarantor). The guarantee given by each guarantor is £1 – ONE GREAT BRITISH POUND. Gaining any information from these people is an incredibly difficult process. The CEO (in name only) Justin Sampson appears to be little more than a public face and issues periodical news letters spewing jargon filled nonsense. If your questions become too complicated or far reaching you will get a curt response from a Nigel McLaughlan (currently the company secretary). But don’t get too used to these faces, they change officers more frequently than some people change their underwear.
When asked about the rate card, and whether or not everyone paid according to its terms, Mr Sampson replied “Yes! Everyone pays according to the rate card.” But when asked why their published accounts showed a comparatively low turnover he stammered and fumbled and said “Ah, well you see, the big 5 guarantee our debt”. That was later amended by McLaughlan saying that the big 5 had separate “arrangements”. When pressed further he, quite angrily, pointed out that they were a limited company and were, therefore, required to report all financial arrangements to companies house. So we searched all 10 pages of their returns to Companies House going back to the incorporation in 1998. The only reference to ‘guarantees’ is in the companies Memorandum and Articles of Association along with the register of members (which is very difficult to locate). All the evidence points to the big 5 receiving BARB services free of charge in return for promising to contribute £1 should the company go bust!! The whole set up of this organisation smells to high heaven! With 281 clients (as of July 2022) if everyone paid an average of the lowest 3 bands – 0.05% to 0.24% share of viewers – BARB turnover would almost £64 million, nearly 3 times more than they declare annually. Something is very, very wrong here.
Using technology that is over 70 years old, this organisation, under the complete control of the big 5 broadcasters, has a stranglehold on the survival of smaller, independent channels. With television broadcast infrastructure also controlled by it’s guarantors, they do have the ability to freeze out and/or shut down any competition. It is my view that they have become an ‘accidental cartel’. They may not have deliberately set out to be so powerful, but they have anyway, and it’s time to level the playing field.
Although several, very popular channels have already been lost, they are with us in our campaign to bring BARB and the UK TV industry to account and create a fairer and equitable standard that not only allows fair competition, but actually promotes it!