Slices of Life

by Jill Pertler

 

We are the Nielsens

I’ve never used a pen name or adopted an alias. My family’s not in the witness protection program, which I’m assuming would necessitate a name change. But this week we are the Nielsens. It’s a moniker steeped in power, prestige and a TV viewing diary. 

The Nielsen in our house is the Nielsen Company, which establishes ratings and rankings for TV shows by gathering information from regular people like us. Families are randomly selected and asked to participate by keeping a TV viewing diary for seven days. People in large cities often have electronic monitoring devices attached to their TVs. Small town folks still complete diaries the old-fashioned way with pen, paper and the occasional writer’s cramp. 

Nielsen has been tracking and compiling viewership data since the 1950s. Starting last Thursday, my family became members of Team Nielsen. 

Just think – what we watch today will be statistics tomorrow! 

This creates a stress and pressure. Oh, sure, I love the idea of being a statistic. The question is: which one? 

Some shows are trendy and cool. Others educational. Or sophisticated. Or raunchy. There’s reality TV. Reruns. Crime shows. Comedies. Cartoons. Talk shows. News. Sports. Prime time. Late night. Early morning. What I watch – or my diary says I watch – paints a picture of me. A Nielsen family has to admit their viewing habits to the world, and we can’t be tuned in to the History and NASA channels all the time. Although my husband would like to give it a try. 

We must, in the name of Nielsen, admit to our real, true, not always educational and sometimes junky viewing pleasures – even if we are a happily married woman tuning in to The Bachelor. We also must face the reality of quantity over quality as the diary fills and we come to the realization that we regrettably do watch more TV than we thought. Furthermore, a person who keeps the TV on all day while she is home, even though she isn’t watching, is required to document this in the diary. Fessing up to not watching the infomercials as they play on the TV in the kitchen may not be something to take pride in, but it does require honesty. 

All this transparency helps the Nielsen Company do its job. According to their website, they track not only TV habits, but monitor books, music, video games, movies, social media, smart phone operating systems and website merchandisers. If you’re tuning in, chances are Nielsen is attuned to it. It feels a little like Big Brother, which is another reality show some very nice, smart people at my house may or may not watch. 

Keeping the diary makes one more cognizant of one’s viewing choices. Before this week, TV was TV. Spending a mindless hour with Ellen, Dr. Phil, the Property Brothers, Judge Judy, the Kardashians or Pat and Vanna might have been a guilty pleasure, but no one had to know about it. Now I have to take pen to paper and make my wheel watcher status official. The choices are weighted with value. What kind of person spends four hours watching home improvement shows on a Saturday? Certainly not me! 

I’m nearing the completion of the diary and wonder: at the end of it all will my viewing habits make me look like the biggest loser or an American idol? Is there any chance I’ll walk out a survivor or am I simply walking dead? One thing’s for sure. By this time next week I’ll be back to being plain old me. But for now, I am a Nielsen.


Jill Pertler is an award-winning writer and syndicated columnist.