Nielsen Family

A letter showed up from Nielsen lately asking for an 18 – 34 year-old-male who’d be willing to take a survey.

We’ve gotten mail from Nielsen before, and it’s always handled carefully; ANYTHING to do with measuring TV ratings is thrown away immediately. We’ve always had at least one person in the house working at a TV station, so participating in ratings research would be a big no-no.

Not everybody takes it so seriously.

Twenty years ago there was a sticky problem here in Albany when the family of a local TV salesperson was selected to receive a Nielsen ratings diary. Thinking they could sway the survey results, her family dutifully reported that they watched WXXA 24-hours-a day. No, nothing suspicious about that.

Nielsen didn’t catch the problem, but there were rumors in town that something was screwy when the November 1997 ratings book came out. WRGB cried foul and an audit turned up the corrupted diary.

The whole thing was tossed out and recalculated. Oops.

According to Variety, a spokesman for Nielsen said it was, “The first time he can remember a local diary being contaminated to such an extent that it impacted the ratings and demographic results.” You’d think they might have caught such an egregious fraud.

In Albany, diaries are a thing of the past. This market is now measured by something called a “code-reader.” A device listens to the TV audio and records which station is being watched. Then, demographics are calculated based on viewer behavior collected in metered markets.

That may sound shaky, but it’s no worse than diaries. Think of the amount of influence those little books had. Untold millions were spent, businesses rose and fell, careers were made — or ruined.

Much of it was accurate, but the rest? It was what people claimed to watch, or thought they watched, or would want people to think they watched.

7 responses to “Nielsen Family

  1. I vaguely remember a cheesy 80s movie where Danny Devito scams the system by kidnapping Nielson families and then having people only watch his shows in the Nielson house.

    I had to look it up. It was called The Ratings Game.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Ratings_Game

    • I can’t believe I didn’t see that. What a cast: Huntz Hall (Huntz Hall!?), Michael Richards, George Wendt, Jerry Seinfeld, to name a few.

  2. Andrew Gregory

    Don’t toss the dollar!

    • Yes, I left out the part about them sending a crisp, new $1 bill. I was tempted to take the survey and collect the $20 they offered.

  3. Then again, there was this sitcom from the 80’s called Hi Honey I’m Home, in which the sitcom family were called The Nielsens, and that they interacted with other sitcom families and characters.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ie3eSySdc7k

  4. We did the radio surveys last year. I figured the wife and child listened to at least an hour or two of local radio, making up for, or atoning for, my BBC and NPR on Sirius.
    Nope – K100 (out of LA) and 80’s on 8. I guess the satellite radio subscriptions get used after all. What a difference from 10 years ago when it was WVCR & WEQX during most waking hours, or 25 years ago when it was WTRY, when they played music.

    Nothing around here ever came close to WPLJ, though. My high school and college soundtrack. If WPLJ didn’t come in clearly, you were too far from home – turn the car around.

    • I use the satellite radio a lot.

      WPLJ was a great station, but in my teens I mostly listened to WLIR — and WNEW when I became insufferably sophisticated.

      When I discovered punk, there was nothing but college radio. I didn’t care for the “new wave” format WLIR switched to in 1982. It came off as phony bullshit.

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