I Was A Nielsen TV Viewing Family

The list of things that will never in a bajillion years happen to any human being is long.  It includes:

  1. Winning the lottery
  2. Getting a shout-out from the president during the State of the Union speech
  3. Being chosen as a Neilsen TV ratings family.

Much as I would prefer the 1st 2 options, my name came up for #3.

The Nielsen Company people were far more excited than I was.  First came a card in the mail announcing my selection.  Then came a follow-up phone call.

The process was explained several times, as if I were a somewhat slow child — you will receive a TV Viewing Diary, and should fill it in each day for a week, even if you don’t watch TV that particular day — and the perky Neilsen person stressed often that this was a Very Important Task.  I got the impression I would basically be setting television ad rates for, like, the entire country, for the next year or so.

My actual Nielsen diary

As perkily promised, the diary arrived.  This was not leather-bound, as I imagined, or even plastic.  It was a few pieces of paper, stapled in the middle like a middle school concert program.  The typeface and paper stock were straight out of the 1970s.  I was tempted to write “Sanford and Son” for my 1st show.

But I didn’t, because my 1st task was answering a series of questions.  “How many TV sets are in my house?” Nielsen wanted to know.

This is harder to answer than it seems.  I can’t remember the last time I heard the phrase “TV set.”  In 2011 Americans watch TV shows on computer monitors, laptops and smartphones.  But I guessed Nielsen doesn’t know this, or really care, so I put down “1.”

Question 2 asked:  “How many of these are in working order.”

Oh boy.

I plowed through some more preliminary questions, then came to the part about “the household member…living here who owns, is buying or rents this home.”

“Is this person Spanish, Hispanic or Latino?” Nielsen wondered.

¡Ay, caramba!

A typical Nielsen TV family.

Next, I had to write in “the channel or station name, number and city for all the channels this set now receives.”  This might have been something any Joe could have done back in the “Sanford and Son” days — but unfortunately Gerald Ford is no longer president.  I have the lowest-level (“Titanium”) Cablevision plan, and even so I get 2,495 channels.

Luckily I found a Cablevision card from 2006, so I started filling in the data.  “2, WCBS, New York.  3, WFSB, Hartford….”  I was barely out of single digits before I was writing stations from “Riverhead” and “Linden.”

Whoa! I said to myself.  Not only have I never watched these channels — and not only did I not know I got them — but I’ve lived my whole life here, and I have no clue where or what “Linden” is.

But I was a Nielsen TV Viewing Family, so I continued my laborious task.  Spike.  The Black Entertainment Network.  The Channel Guide (hey, it was listed on the card).

I thought of putting in a fake name or two to see if they’d notice — The Dan Woog Network maybe, or Congressional Sex Scandal TV — but then I figured such channels probably already exist.  Besides, I was learning a lot as I went on.  I get the Speed Network!  Awesome!

Soon, it was on to the Diary.  (Nielsen always capitalizes this.  The same way we refer to the Pope.)

Nielsen would find out My Viewing Habits.  Ad rates would shift dramatically.  The economy would go into overdrive.  That is so cool.

There was only one problem.

I don’t watch TV.

Okay, that’s stretching the truth.  I do watch.  Every 4 years, I am a huge fan of the presidential election returns.

If I’m sitting in the Toyota service department waiting room I watch whatever I’m forced to, which usually consists of a white guy, a white woman, a black guy and a Hispanic woman (or vice versa) bantering fake-jovially.  It doesn’t matter if it’s the news, a talk show or ESPN; a federal law says all TV shows must now have these people on it.

And yes, there are 2 shows I watch whenever I can.  They are “60 Minutes” and — I swear on Sarah Palin’s bible, this is true — “Cops.”

But I missed “60 Minutes” during my viewing week.  So — again this is true, may god and Nielsen strike me dead — my Diary consisted of all “X”s in the “TV Set Off” column, except for 1 hour of “Cops.”

My salary for working for Nielsen for a week.

I filled in my Diary exactly that way.  I was scrupulously honest, as I’d promised to be.  Besides, they gave me a crisp $1 bill for my troubles, so if I lied I’d probably be committing some sort of television felony.

That was it.  My week as a TV Viewing Diary Family was over.  I was proud to do my part for Nielsen, my country, and most of all, the advertising industry.

Sorry if I screwed up your ad rates, though.  My bad.

15 responses to “I Was A Nielsen TV Viewing Family

  1. Dan: Without a doubt one of your funniest posts. And you’ve already set the bar pretty high. Great work! Cops????!!!!!

  2. Funny Post Dan. That and the milder weather made my day. They sent me one too, but I had computer problems last week and never opened the envelope. Then I got a phone call asking me to do it a few days later, but I was busy purchasing a new computer, installing all the software, etc.–and the envelope still sits there unopened. I doubt they would be interested in my TV habits anyhow. Will I have to give the dollar back?

  3. To think these statistics actually result in rates being charged is unfathomable. Are you kidding me? Thanks for the insight.

  4. The Dude Abides

    Shout out from the President? Far out, bro!

  5. What’s really amazing is how few surveys there are. I think it’s between 5,000 and 10,000 people in the entire country. I know that there is some statistical support that many more people won’t make it much better, but when you figure in the regional differences and the number of channels, you’d think there would be larger sampling errors.

  6. Longtime Westporter

    Dan, a hysterical column with lots of zingers. My husband also watches 60 Minutes and, yes, his secret love, Cops. But you don’t watch the News Hour at 6 or 7 each night? The best unbiased news on TV. Try it.

  7. Dan:
    You are as un-American as can be. Big Content will find you and ship you offshore to re-educate you.

    Tweeted your post and already it’s been retweeted.

    Great post!

  8. Pingback: Tweets that mention I Was A Nielsen TV Viewing Family | 06880 -- Topsy.com

  9. The Dude Abides

    The Professor is about as un-American as apple pie. Tweeting might be though.

  10. You are a better man than I am. We kept the diary but when it came to sending the channel list, the printout would have been 16 pages long. Just told them to find the list on Xfinity. There is only so much they should expect for $1.00.

  11. I got the letter asking if I was interested. It included 5 crisp ones. I sent it back. They called and sent out the survey for me to watch tv and keep track. And there were 30 crisp ones it it. I did it cause I’ve got nothin better to do and yes they do act like us Americans are stupid and have mild alzeimers 🙂

  12. didu write all that too just to bitch and sound coolly apathetic. the diary was not hard to fill out and i got 30 dollars in cash.