When Campaign described relations between broadcasters and online video platforms as an epic battle last year, both sides dismissed talk of war.
However, there’s no denying that the TV industry has a tense relationship with YouTube.
The Google platform has claimed for years that it is in the ascendancy, particularly with teens and twentysomethings. So UK broadcasters have relished seeing YouTube on the back foot because of the brand-safety row over extremist content. And now the TV industry has dealt the world’s biggest video site another small but significant blow.
Barb, the official TV audience ratings body, which is funded by the BBC, ITV, Channel 4, Sky and the IPA, among others, has rejected YouTube’s request for accreditation.
Google’s proposal involved giving server data to Barb as part of a pilot scheme. But that wasn’t good enough for the body, which demands "independent auditing" to ensure viewing data is free of bots, gamification and other potential flaws.
Barb embeds software code on broadcasters’ online TV players and expects others that want accreditation to adhere to the same "gold standards". Barb also measures average viewing duration time rather than counting a view after a minimum time, as YouTube prefers.
Industry insiders warn of other challenges, including the cost and practicality of tracking the sheer volume of online views.
YouTube has been trying for years to persuade advertisers that online video should be treated on a par with TV. As Matt Adams, chief executive of Havas Media UK, puts it: "YouTube has made a strategic intention to drive its next phase of growth through attacking traditional TV investment from brands." And, he suggests, its "lack of third-party verification is starting to bite" due to advertisers’ concerns.
If YouTube became part of TV’s joint industry currency, it could tap into a major new source of revenue. "It would give YouTube a stamp of authority in the broadcast world," Josh Krichefski, chief executive of MediaCom UK, says. "But measurement is only part of the story. The content is very different and is priced and used accordingly. Barb measurement would give validation to YouTube’s scale but, until brand-safety concerns are allayed, the quality of the scale is not comparable."
For some, the debate about the type of content Barb is measuring is as important as measurement. "We have to be careful how we define TV," one broadcaster says, contrasting quality TV shows that are subject to Ofcom regulation with user-generated videos that are uploaded with little quality control or regulation.
"The vast majority of our content is seen on the TV in the home; the vast majority of YouTube content is watched on mobile and often out of the home," the broadcaster adds. "Is one rating on ITV or Channel 4 or Sky the equivalent of YouTube? I’m not sure it is."
Facebook video also differs from TV because it plays automatically "in the news feed, with no sound", the broadcaster adds.
Others in the Barb camp are pushing to embrace YouTube because they see how broadcast and internet delivery are merging.
Some observers agree. Jana Eisenstein, EMEA managing director at Videology, says: "There is a clear need for a common metric for video consumption across all screens."
Barb’s own initiative, Project Dovetail, has been delayed until next year. However, Eisenstein says Barb is ideally placed to be the arbiter as it has "served the TV industry so well for so many years" and made "no exceptions".
Barb is expected to explain what YouTube must do differently to win accreditation, which could pave the way for a future deal. The TV industry isn’t going to let Google and Facebook mark their own homework.