Dear “Nielsen” Diary

This is the fourth segment of the five part saga.

Dateline: February, 2016…

This is the continuing tale of a haggard statistical madam named, “Nielsen,” and her legacy ratings diary. She is riding the Jurassic Media dinosaur into the 21st century.

“Nancy Nielsen,” as I fondly name her, informs me my diaries will arrive by mail. How àpropos. The US Postal service is also a dinosaur agency maintained on life support through constant cash infusions by the Feds cashasaurus printing machine.

In any case, I have not experienced excitement about an envelope arriving since my days in the Navy, and my girlfriend’s love letters drifting ever so gently through postal space on their way to my loving hands. I eagerly check the mailbox daily for my diary sent from Nancy.

I know I will be recording family media viewing for the spring sweeps week. I am familiar with the game, though a bit rusty since my media professor teaching years. Anyone interested in learning about sweeps weeks can go here.

After my phone discussion with Nancy Nielsen, I use the teaching moment to introduce the basics of Ratings and Shares to my son, and a few other of the older kids. “Yawn,” is the response. Oh well, you can lead a horse…

Soon, the diaries arrive! Oh joy, rapture!

The day the Nielsen diary arrives!

I carefully slice open the package, and take a picture of the contents with my iPhone to catalogue the event. I never did this with the Arbitron stuff – no iPhones. I think I saved a check stub somewhere; nothing more.

Look, cash! Two crisp, starched dollar bills are ensconced in a 6 by 9 envelope with the Nielsen logo. Six diaries are encased. No attempt to hide the stuff, certainly not as clandestine as my Arbitron experience. The unmarked van was always so cool.

An enterprising network executive could easily pay off a postal clerk. Just one call, a little cash exchange, and the tip off to the whereabouts of the diary recipient is shared.  My imagination is over heating.

There are six paper diaries, with teeny writing spaces. Penmanship is required. There is oodles of printed instructions that need, gasp, reading. Good luck with anyone under 35 reading more than two lines of instructions. Seriously Nielsen, you need to develop an app for this. Paper is very last century.

Holding the diaries in my hand, I once again feel the power rushing to my head, like in the old days with my Arbitron meter, and the remote. I do kind of feel like I am cheating on my old Arbitron Mistress. No, no we parted ways amicably, it was mutual. I’m free to date Nancy. The flashback fizzles.

By the way, I never get to speak to Nancy Nielsen again. She was nice enough and all, but the diaries are a one-night stand. It is just a statistical fling, not a long-term relationship.

In any case, I am thrilled to be back in the ratings game after 25 years! Of course, I still love Looney Tunes and Three Stooges reruns. I am media Jurassic in so many ways.

What the heck is this thing?

Now, time to gander at this ancient tome to a television era gone bye – the paper diary. Those interested in reading an FAQ about the diary can go to Nielsen’s online help site. Much of the diary first page is missing on their help site, but being the good professor, a full picture is provided for my students below. You may need to blow up the images if you are older than 35. You know what I mean.

Let’s begin the diary review, shall we?

1. “How many TV sets are in your home?”

The first question on the diary is the same one Nancy Nielsen asked over the phone; it’s requested here again. I explained this one to Nancy. Once again I wonder, what the hell is the definition of “TV set?” A viewing platform perhaps? A screen. A monitor. A PDA. Does anyone under 45 use the term “TV set?” Set of what? Do they come in matching colors? Ugh…

Nielsen diary instructions first page, top.

Curious, I ask my family members to use the word “set” in a sentence. “Place set. Chess set. Film set. Tea set. Set something down.”

These are the descriptions I get. No, “TV set.” Good thing Nielsen doesn’t ask how many black & white, or colored TVs are in the house. Imagine the confusion with those descriptions in the 21st century. “I have a black iPad.” “I’ve got a pink Galaxy Pad.” “Is my silver iPod black & white?”

There are 6 kids in my house, and two adults. I count every single platform for motion-image-broadcast viewing, everything with a screen. I fill in “24.” Set of 24? Okay, moving along.

2. “How many of these are in working order?”

“Working order?” Let’s see, it was probably circa 1985 the last time I had a broken TV set somewhere in the house awaiting a trip to the dump. The television repairman had pretty much gone the way of the Triceratops. I do have some old PC boxes, do they count as not in working order without a monitor? What the hell, I record “24” again.

Old TV

Hmmm, this “set” needs fixin’.

3. “Is this TV connected to a cable TV service?”

What TV? The broken TV? Anyone else scratching their head at this question? Okay, now I suspect that no one has edited this diary booklet since the Brady Bunch days. You know, when families actually sat around and watched TV together, in the living room, on one big floor “set.” Marcia, Marcia, Marcia!

“Monitor,” “screen,” or “viewing platform” are all better terms for the 21st century. Aren’t all viewing screens now connected to cable TV, satellite, or the telephone network, via WiFi or cellular service? I don’t have coaxial cable anywhere in my household. Does anyone at Nielsen have a smartphone? Oh hell, forget it.

Eventually it dawns on me that question three is in reference to each particular paper diary, supposedly for use with a particular “TV set,” in a particular room. I seem to have misplaced my wooden television console along with my phonograph player.


Where does the cable connect on here?

Here is a typical viewing experience at my house, in one day. No, “one hour,” just minute to minute.

One kid is on the PC skypeing with friends, playing online games, and viewing clips on YouTube – simultaneously. Another kid, iPad in hand, is watching some videos, listening to music, texting, checking snapchat, and viewing clips someone just posted on Facebook. Another kid is sitting next to Jurassic Dad, watching Netflix on the HDTV, with iPhone in hand, texting friends, and viewing Facebook at the same time. And they get up and move around the house, room to room, outside, to the car, into town, to the neighbors, with the viewing screen in hand. Oh my gosh, the TV left the room. Come back! Help, Nancy Nielsen!

Holy crap, Nielsen, what do I do here? One “TV,” for one room, really? Where’s June Cleaver? Herman Munster?

The 21st century generation viewer usually has two screens with them when viewing content, or they watch multiple feeds on split screens. Okay, I’ll do my best to continue to interpret this fifties throwback language for my kids. Next question.

4. “Is this TV connected to…?”

They keep asking this similar question. I give up already. What “TV” are they referencing? I am at a complete loss. I already answered that the house has 24 “TVs” in the first question, so why is Nielsen still asking about “this” TV? Nancy told me on the phone they only send out 6 diaries. For the love of Pete, no one on the bloody planet only watches fixed viewing platforms in specific rooms. And even when watching one monitor, there are often two or three things playing on it at the same time. Where’s my time machine? Next question.

Nielsen diary instructions first page, bottom

5. “Does the TV receive channels that may be offered for extra monthly fees?”

Oh god, how the hell am I going to write Netflix, Hulu, iTunes, Apple TV, and Amazon Prime in this tiny little white box? Even the so-called newspapers that are now subscription based and broadcasting video on their websites. Isn’t that a pay channel? I can’t write that small. The munchkin graphic designers made the little white text box. So I just write in “many.” Next question.

6. “Is this TV connected to any of the following devices?”

“VCR” is one of three choices! You have got to be kidding? Does anyone reading this still use a VCR. You better rewind and get that cassette back to Blockbuster before they charge a late fee! Ha, ha.! Made you panic for a second there didn’t I? I’m so Jurassic, even Blockbuster is now extinct.

Nowhere in the menu choice is a hard-drive, jump-drive, server, smartphone, iPad, PDA, PC, etc. They do include “DVR.” Wow, a 21st century term landed here somehow. A time portal must have opened and the word drifted into the mind of the munchkins that printed the diary back in 1955. I record shows on hard-drives, jump drives, iPhones, iPads, and PCs. I am forced to select, “None of the above.”

Now I understand why Nielsen continues to print these little diaries with the old style television set logo on the front page, complete with knobs. Perhaps the throwback image is what they expect the diary recipients to  imagine while lovingly scratching away with pencil or pen on their diaries.

The Nielsen Diary is a throwback tool to the days of Leave It to Beaver, and Dennis the Menace. I am now feeling melancholy, so perhaps I’ll watch the Munsters on my iPad via iTunes and record it as my “Bedroom TV set” on the diary. I can reminisce while watching my iPad and lay on the floor pretending I am in front of a big console TV set with my blanket.

“Dad, why do they say ‘TV set?’ Did people purchase televisions in sets? Were they cheaper that way?” My kids may ask me. I am feeling as old as Grandpa Munster about this time.

Lost in Space

Dr. Smith and his Nielsen research team.

The best part is yet to come! I instruct all the kids to record in their diaries with a pencil, so I can erase mistakes. BTW, a diarist can place the little paper book on their iPad as a writing surface while watching all their screens at once. It fits nicely.

The instructions, and format for this antiquated practice are a wonderful walk down memory lane for this Jurassic Media Professor.


Now, being a professor, I can’t help but want to teach and coach. So here is some feedback for the Nielsen Media Lab Staff from me the Jurassic Media Professor. Think of me as your consultant for a moment, no charge.

At the next rewrite of the teeny-tiny diary, keep in mind the generation interpreting the instructions. I will probably not be alive when the updated version is released, so my heirs will be required to follow directions without a Jurassic Media Professor’s assistance.

For anyone born after 1970,  instructions lengthier than two lines of text and not presented as little dancing cartoon figures will be lost after the half-second attention span expires. Better yet, just make an app for their iPhone 17s’s  that record all media surrounding them, or right from their brain waves, and have your computers sort through the massive collection. Talk to the NSA for assistance here.

That’s all for now. Tune in (Jurassic Media lingo referencing the actual turning of a knob to capture a radio broadcast signal) for the next episode of “Saga of Media Ratings, Part 5.” Find out what happens when actual video content is viewed and young diarists attempts to enter viewing history on a paper diary!

To be continued in part 5…

Now, conquer the day!

Oh, and go cancel your cable tier package subscription. Please don’t feed the mega corporate media monsters, thank you.

Yours truly,

The Jurassic Media Professor

“Copyright © 15MAR17 by Steven A. Schwab”