Monday, April 12, 2010

Interview with a Neilsen Family

While having dinner with some friends from work last week, I discovered something amazing. One of them was a Nielsen family. That's right; she and her family were one of the select few whose tv-watching actually MATTERS and who help determine the ratings. I'm not one to let such an opportunity slide, so I asked my friend (whose identity I have to keep secret since we common folk aren't really supposed to know who the Nielsen peeps are) if she would mind granting me a little interview. So without further ado, here is the interview!

First things first, how did you get selected?

A Nielsen representative knocked on our door one evening and after interviewing my husband asked if we would like to participate. As explained to us, it is likely that there had been another Nielsen family in our neighborhood or near us, and they had to find someone else in our neighborhood. Although they were looking for a specific demographic (which they did not disclose to us), they actually have to take the first family that will agree to be Nielsen members.

What can you tell me about the way Nielsen measures what you watch? Is there a little box on top of your tv or something that takes note of what's on the tv?

There is a black box on top of our cable box. Each person in the family is assigned a number, and we always have openings for any guests, where we can enter their age. Each time we turn on the television we have to plug in the number of who is watching television, we have a separate remote for that purpose. After 42 minutes of watching a show, the lights start flashing and you have to confirm that you are still watching the show. If you do not enter a number when you turn on the television, red lights flash constantly and Nielsen is alerted that the tv is being watched without a number assignment. When we first became Nielsen members, they spent an entire day here putting equipment in each of our televisions, so they know what we watch and how long we watch it. The only thing that really screws up the system is when we turn the mute button on, because the system needs sound to work properly. We will get a phone call a few days later from Nielsen if we have had the mute button on too much or have watched television without entering our numbers.

I assume you have a DVR, but since you are a Nielsen family do you feel like you should be watching things live? I know that Nielsen has started measuring DVR watching…but I think I would feel like guilty for not watching things live!

We have a DVR on each television. If we watch a television program within 7 days of it being aired it will be counted in the total Nielsen number; however, until you watch the program it will not be counted. So for example, while Nielsen numbers are sometimes released to the public the day after a program airs, the numbers could keep climbing if Nielsen members watch it on DVR. I believe statistics have been released which show that some shows benefit more from DVR watching rather than live watching. We do make sure to watch certain shows - particularly ones that we love that we know are in trouble - live just to make sure we get our numbers in early, although we did this more in the beginning.

What are your favorite shows? Do you make an effort to watch low-rated shows to help them out (cough Friday Night Lights cough)?

I recall when the show 'Roseanne' was on, they became a Nielsen family and only wanted to watch "smart" programs; us, not so much, we stick with what we like. I like FNL, Vampire Diaries, Gossip Girl, Life Unexpected, Grey's Anatomy, Project Runway, Amazing Race, The Office, The Good Wife, and Real Housewives (OC & NYC), Parenthood, The Bachelor (sometimes) - By the way, I do not not watch American Idol, I know they have crazy Nielsen numbers but I'm not part of it - I sometimes tune into Dancing with the Stars. Of those shows, I always watch FNL and Life Unexpected live, the rest I watch via DVR although sometimes the same night, I try to watch within the 7 days. My husband watches lots of sports, Lost, Entourage, CSI, and lots of TLC/Discovery shows. We both watch Daily Show with John Stewart and tune into Jimmy Fallon occasionally. The kids watch a lot of programs on demand (Comcast cable) which still count towards Nielsen. They like Olivia, Hannah Montana, Wizards of Waverly Place, Bob the Builder, and Handy Manny. I sometimes will try out a show because I know that our Nielsen numbers will help; however, I don't tend to stick with a show unless I really like it. When the whole Conan O'Brien saga was going on, we made sure to watch him every night, and now we refuse to watch Jay Leno - don't want to give him any Nielsen numbers.

How long is your tour of duty with Nielsen?

Our term lasts two years, although you can quit at any time. It gets tiresome having to constantly plug in our numbers, but it will feel strange once we don't have to do it anymore.

So there you have it! Sounds to me like being a Nielsen family is much more of a hassle than I thought...having to plug in all those numbers and deal with them calling if there is a problem. Very big brother-esque. They're watching you...watching television!


Whitney said...

this was great, and very interesting!

Monkey Sri said...

Thanks for the insight into how TV decisions get made. I wish we knew more about the specified "demographic!" Nuclear families that watch a certain amount of TV per week, perhaps?

Maggie Cats said...

I immediately thought of a racial demographic, but families seem a much better guess. You get a bunch of tv watchers of varying ages in one house.

Now that I see what a pain in the ass it is, I'm kind of glad I'm not a Nielsen person.