Last Tuesday was the final day. The nice folks from the Nielsen company came out to disconnect all their equipment.
Now that our commitment is over, I can tell you that we have been a Nielsen family for the last year. This was the first time we’ve been a part of the Nielsen Ratings system, and to tell you the truth, it was pretty cool knowing that what we were watching on TV or surfing for online influenced the ratings at least somewhat. Our technician told us we represented 60,000 households. Talk about a lot of folks channel and web surfing!
Years ago, according to Mary Ann, our associate editor here at the paper, when people were randomly chosen to do this, Nielsen monitored your TV watching by reviewing a manual paper log that you were required to fill out of everything we were watching. I imagine that was a real pain, especially since I personally am a chronic channel surfer (like basically every time a commercial comes on).
However, technology has advanced significantly, and the way you log what you are watching is by way of a remote which has the appropriately marked buttons for whoever is doing the watching. We even had a button for visitors. It was a little annoying having to re-push the buttons every 45 minutes or so, but Neilsen puts that in as a safeguard to assure that, when the TV is on, someone is still watching.
It worked the same way for the internet. Our laptops were both equipped with a program that we had to log into each time we used the computer. The program recorded the sites we visited regularly, and sent a (they said anonymous) report back to the Nielsen headquarters to help determine website ratings. Still, it made me think twice before clicking on one of those “unsavory” pop-up ads that appear out of nowhere while you’re surfing the web. I also made sure to click on StarJournalNOW.com often, too. Hey, the way I figure, a little self-preservation couldn’t hurt, right?
Even though we represented 60,000 households of viewers, a few of the shows we watched regularly were still canceled. The sitcom “Scrubs” is gone. So is “Friday Night Lights.” One of my personal favorites, “Community”, nearly got the NBC ax before a spirited group of fans rallied around the show in recent months. I’m not convinced my Nielsen vote helped at all there. But I watched faithfully, and always made sure Trish and I were both logged in on the remote.
We may have helped a few shows, too. “Pawn Stars” and “American Pickers”, both History Channel stalwarts, have come out with advertising within the last six months saying they are among cable television’s highest-rated shows. We rarely missed either one in the past year, and I feel like Chumlee owes me a doughnut or something. I’ve also recently gotten into the new A&E Network show “Duck Dynasty” (a big guilty pleasure), which follows the the Robertsons, a Louisiana bayou family living the American dream as they operate a thriving business, Duck Commander Duck Calls, while staying true to their very “rural southern” roots. Think of a cross between “The Beverly Hillbillies” and “The Jeff Foxworthy Show”, with a little ZZ Top thrown in.
Of course, I’m sure Nielsen got plenty of ratings records from us watching plenty of Brewers and Packers games. I’m also a bit of a history and political nerd, so the History Channel, A&E, Discovery and Fox News and MSNBC probably got a nice jump from us. As did Comedy Central, I’m sure. In fact, I often wonder how many people get the majority of their national political news and commentary from “The Daily Show” and “The Colbert Report”.
Trish had some guilty pleasures as well. She’s a huge fan of action movies and crime shows, so if she was watching TV (which really isn’t often), she usually had either some Harrison Ford or Kevin Costner movie on, or an episode of NCIS. However, there were a few times I got home from the office or from covering a meeting late, and she’d be engrossed in an episode of “Teen Mom”. As I’d roll my eyes, she’d counter by saying that watching it made her feel better about her parenting skills. I guess it’s hard to argue there…but I can’t help but wonder if we were inadvertently helping that junk stay on the air?
While our kids (Garrett, 3, and Gracie, 1) are still pretty young for grown-up TV, we let them watch toddler and baby-themed shows once in a while. So to “Thomas the Tank Engine”, “Super Why”, “Handy Manny”, “Little Einsteins” and “Jake and the Neverland Pirates”, you’re welcome for the ratings bump. And to those readers who have no idea what shows I’m talking about here, consider yourself lucky.
Being a Nielsen household brought with it some nice perks. They actually paid us. We got a check several times a year for $75. Now, that’s not a lot of money, but every little bit helps. Plus, the folks at Nielsen were very nice. Someone would visit occasionally to check the equipment. And the times we had trouble with the equipment, the technician rapidly appeared at our door and was always courteous and friendly. He even played with Scout (but then who wouldn’t like a hyper-active, threatening-as-pudding Springer Spaniel?)
I’m going to miss being a Nielsen family. It was fun knowing that what we were doing during our “throw-away time” (that time after 8 p.m. when the kids are in bed) was really making a difference.
However, I’m not going to hold my breath over getting that doughnut from Chumlee, or a free Duck Commander duck call as a thank you present.