Hey hey we’re the Nielsens!

My family and I are just completing a week of being a Neilsen family and have found it to be a surprisingly illuminating experience. The Nielsen survey, as you know, is the diary-keeping system that tracks the television viewing habits of a slice of the American public so that advertising rates can be set appropriately. The Nielsen people called a few weeks ago and asked if we would like to participate. My wife said, “Sure! Anything in the name of science!” thinking that, naturally, there would be an electronic gizmo we put on top of the TV that would automatically track what we watched. But not so. Several days later our five paper diaries – one for each television set in the house – arrived in the mail, complete with instructions on filling them out and TWO crisp one dollar bills. We were actually being PAID to work for Nielsen! 

At first it was kind of a pain to have to pull out the diary, write down the name of the station, the channel, the program, and note which people were watching. Eventually we got the hang of it and got into the swing of tabulating our viewing practices. 

There have been a couple of interesting awarenesses that have resulted from our Nielsen experience. First of all, we don’t seem to watch nearly as much television in this house as I thought might be the case. Sometimes it seems as if the dull blather of television white noise is a constant companion to every Brown family activity. But check the books… not at all the case! The second aha! for me was a reaffirmation of the sociologist’s insight that the very act of observation changes the thing being observed. For example, I am sure that there were instances when I really felt like plopping into the easy chair and clicking on the tube to do a little mindless channel surfing. But knowing I would have to write down each of the channels and shows I stopped at caused me to pick up a book instead. Not entirely a bad thing. And then there was the time that someone in the home – not to name any names, but one of the people who is NOT me – actually sat down with the intention of taking in 15 minutes of “The Real Housewives of Atlanta.” However, fearing how this might look in the diary, found something else less… well, QUESTIONABLE to watch. 

In the end, I am afraid that if the upcoming television schedule were determined based on the viewing habits of our household there would be nothing on any of your 587 channels of TV but HGTV, 24 hours a day!

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