ITC Notes

Audience Research/ Terminology

Broadcasting Act 1990

Section 12 requires the ITC to assess public opinion concerning programmes included in licensed services, the effects of these programmes on viewers’ attitudes or behaviour, and viewers’ programme preferences.

Licence Conditions

Applicants for Channel 3 licences in 1991 had to state what particular aspects of the region to be served were important in terms of providing an effective regional service. This statement had to be supported by steps taken to ascertain the needs and interests of people living in the region and the results of any research. Proposals made in their applications are incorporated in ITC licences, which also require Channel 3 licensees to have an on-going programme of audience research.

Performance Review

Each year’s performance assessment of licence obligations by the ITC includes audience research reports prepared on the basis of BARB data. This is supplemented by input from the ITC’s Viewer Consultative Councils (VCCs). A range of audience research data is used to assess whether Channel 3 programmes appeal to a variety of tastes and interests, and whether particular programme strands (such as regional and children’s programmes) reach their target audience and, in relation to Channel 4, to help in assessing whether Channel 4 appeals to tastes and interests not catered for by Channel 3. In the case of Channel 5, too, the full range of BARB data is employed to help inform the performance assessment in line with its licence requirements. The ITC subscribes to the BARB audience reaction service which - along with other regional measures - is used to establish the opinions of viewers in each Channel 3 licence area in respect of the service provided.


The Broadcasters’ Audience Research Board (BARB) is the main television industry source of audience data. It is owned jointly by the BBC, ITV, Channel 4, Channel 5, BSkyB, Flextech and the IPA. It commissions professional research suppliers to measure how many people are watching television (audience measurement) and (until end 2001) their enjoyment of programmes (audience reaction). The ITC subscribes to both services.

ITC Research

ITC audience research provides a systematic measurement of public opinion based on statistically representative samples of the viewing population and complements the feedback which the ITC receives from the VCCs, advisers and correspondents. Since 1970 a major annual survey, currently entitled Television: the public’s view, has been carried out to track public attitudes. In addition to core questions, repeated annually, thus providing valuable opinion trends, the survey is also adapted each year to cover topical issues. The survey relates mainly to the ITC’s responsibilities under the Broadcasting Act 1990 for consumer protection (e.g. taste, decency, offence and impartiality) and programme standards. At the end of 1998, the ITC published Television Across the Years: the British Public’s View, the findings over 27 years.

The ITC also commissions a wide range of quantitative and qualitative research from external bodies, often employing innovative techniques such as Citizens’ Juries and Citizens’ Forums. It has jointly funded specific research with ITV, the BBC, C4, C5, BSkyB, the Broadcasting Standards Council (BSC) and the British Board of Film Classification (BBFC). In the run-up to the creation of Ofcom, the ITC has been working more closely with the BSC and the two bodies have developed an extensive programme of joint research. The ITC’s annual audience research budget is around £1m, a significant proportion of which covers the cost of subscribing to the BARB services.


The ITC, and its predecessor the IBA, has published a series of television research monographs in addition to the annual survey. The ITC also publishes research documents in-house and the ITC Library holds a large stock of unpublished but publicly available IBA/ITC research reports. A selection of these is listed in further references.

ITC Library

The ITC Library is no longer open to the public. All the books have been transferred to the library at the British Film Institute (BFI).


Audience Appreciation – from BARB’s Audience Reaction Service. The AI or Appreciation Index is a score on a scale from 0 to 100 which indicates the qualitative judgement of the audience, including subgroups, about a programme. It is useful in assessing the response to programmes made for a small or specialist audiences, where viewing figures alone would be an unreliable guide, and to new series. Weekly viewing diaries are sent to 2,000 people on a panel, and every four weeks to members of a further four panels, each with 1,000 people. They are asked to mark listed programmes out of 10.

Viewers are also asked why they watched the programme and given three options: ‘made a special effort’, ‘ made some effort’, and ‘because it was on’. The diaries are accompanied by special questionnaire booklets in which members of the service can include special questionnaires about viewing in general or about particular programmes or series. This service ceases from end 2001 though may be replaced in some form.

Audience Measurement – BARB’s Audience Measurement Service provides estimates of television viewing on a minute-by-minute basis of all channels received in the UK. The sample of 4,485 households is constructed to be representative of the ITV and BBC regions. An Establishment Survey of some 40,000 interviews per year is conducted on a rolling basis to provide the profiles of the television households for panel control purposes and to provide a pool from which new households may be recruited to the panel. The activity of television sets, VCRs and cable and satellite decoders is monitored electronically, and all permanent residents in panel households and visitors declare their presence in a room while a television is on by pressing an allocated button on a special handset.

Throughout each day the meter system collects viewing information and holds it in a memory store. Each night the data from all the panel households is automatically transferred to the data processing centre via phone lines, and results are available daily. BARB does not undertake audience measurement directly, instead audience ratings are produced on its behalf by contractors. There are four Audience Measurement contracts held by three contractors - RSMB (methodology), IPSOS-RSL (surveys), ATR (metering, data collection and processing).

BARB – The Broadcasters’ Audience Research Board. (see ITC Note 10).

Channel Share or Share – the percentage of the viewing audience watching one channel rather than any of the others, over a given period of time, e.g. a channel share of 37% for ITV in September means that of all the individuals watching television in an average minute in September, 37% were watching ITV and the others were watching other channels or their VCR. The calculation is made minute by minute, and an average taken. Channel share is sometimes referred to as ‘audience share’, ‘share of viewing’, ‘percentage share’ or just ‘share’. It should not be confused with TVR (see below).

Consolidated Viewing – The hours of viewing for a channel or channels where the figures include both live viewing and video playback of programmes recorded, and watched within seven days of transmission.

Cover – or coverage, the word used of advertisements, means the same as ‘Reach’ (see below) used of programmes.

Duplication – the percentage of respondents who watched a specified proportion (usually half) of one programme who also watched that proportion of a subsequent programme. Used by broadcasters to assess the performance of a series or regular items, and to inform scheduling decisions.

Flow – an analysis of the audience for the five terrestrial channels, ‘other’ and VCR playback. It shows how many viewers, at each minute, were watching the same channel as in the previous minute, those who were watching another channel or their VCR the previous minute (i.e. they have joined the programme) and how many who were watching the channel the previous minute have changed to another channel or their VCR (i.e. have switched out). It also shows who had their set on the previous minute and have now switched off, or vice versa. Used by broadcasters to construct competitive schedules.

Index – a measure of the size of the sub-category of the audience. For example, if children aged 4-15 have an index of 100 for a particular programme of advertising break, it means that the audience for that period contained the same proportion of 4-15 year olds as are found in the general population. Were the index 120, that would mean that 20% more children were watching than in the population at large.

Loyalty – the percentage of the audience at the beginning of a programme, based on a Flow analysis (see above), who are still viewing the same programme at the end.

Peoplemeter - the current method of measuring audiences for BARB, allowing panel members to register their viewing by means of a remote handset. The data, along with information about the television sets in the home, is accessed nightly via the telephone network.

Reach – the percentage of the population who saw a specified amount of a programme, or of a channel’s output, over a specified period. The conventional amount of time is three consecutive minutes, but it can be any length of time. The average daily reach for a programme, for example, is the proportion of the population who, each day averaged over the week, watched at least three consecutive minutes of the programme. This is a useful way of measuring audiences for multi-item programmes which people ‘dip into’ rather than watch continuously. A channel’s daily or weekly reach is the proportion of the population who watched at least three consecutive minutes of the channel’s output in the course of a day or week.

Sub-categories, Sub-Demographic Group – the division of the main audience categories (individuals, adults, men, women, children, and housewives) by age and social grade. Social grade is determined at the household, rather than the individual, level, by the occupation of the head of the head of the household. The grade is then assigned to all members of the household.

The grades are: AB – higher (A) and intermediate (B) managerial, administrative or professional personnel; C1 – supervisory or clerical, and junior managerial, administrative or professional personnel; C2 – skilled manual workers; DE – Semi and unskilled workers (D); pensioners or widows, casual or lowest grade workers (E).

Age divisions generally used are: 4-9 years; 10-15; 16-24; 25-34; 35-44; 45-54; 55-64 and 65+ (although 55-64 and 65+ tend to be replaced by 55+).

TVR or Television Rating – the TVR is used by the broadcasting industry to measure the audience for a programme or a commercial break. It is done by comparing the audience to the population as a whole. If, for example, a soap opera achieves a ‘Housewife TVR of 30 in Yorkshire’, this means that 30% of all Housewives in the Yorkshire region watched an average minute of that episode, while the other 70% watched another channel or were not watching television at all. TVRs are calculated for each minute of all channels measured. Programmes and commercial breaks take their TVRs from the average TVR for the relevant minutes. TVRs are not to be confused with ‘channel share’ (see above).

Audience Research Terminology - Publications

ITC/IBA Publications

ITC Library bibliography: Audience Research
TOWLER, Bob. Rating the ratings system. in Spectrum Spring 1996, 12-13.

ITC Television Research Monographs (published by John Libbey, now the University of Luton Press)

The Reactive Viewer: a review of research on audience reaction measurement (1992)

Audience Research - References

ITC Publications
Television: the public’s view (annual)
Copycat Kids?: the influence of television advertising on children and teenagers Pam Hanley, ITC 2000
Public service broadcasting: what viewers want Jane Sancho, ITC 2001
Boxed-in: offence from negative stereotyping in television advertising Jane Sancho, Andy Wilson, ITC 2001
The Numbers Game: Pam Hanley, ITC March 2002

Include me in Annabelle Sreberny 1999 (BSC)
Internet regulation: the way forward? Pam Hanley 2000 (ITC)
New News, old news: October 2002
Pride of Place: July 2002
The Public’s View 2001: March 2002
Depiction of violence on terrestrial television: A content analysis – Briefing Update No10: April 2002

Delete Expletives? Andrea Millwood-Hargrave 2000 (BSC)

Wrestling: how do audiences perceive TV and video wrestling? Arnold Cragg 2001 (BBFC)

Striking a Balance: September 2002
Multicultural Broadcasting: Concept and Reality: November 2002

The Public Interest, the Media and Privacy: March 2002