Bonjour, My Arbitron Mistress!
This is the first segment of the saga.
Dateline: February, 2016,
A mysterious caller rings the home phone.
We have a landline at the house, part of our telephone company package that brings Internet to the home. The family usually doesn’t pay much attention to calls, and the messages get purged often without even listening to them. The landline is like the US Mail. It is a vestigial technology, an antiquated concept long past its expiration date. It is Jurassic media, like me, the Jurassic Media Professor.
The landline is relegated to delivery of junk sales calls and political pitches. It is similar to the garbage that still gets stuffed in the mailbox six days a week, kind of like email.
It’s the evening, just after dinner time, and everyone is home. One of the kids happens to read out the caller I.D. Perhaps he finds the name intriguing?
“Dad, do you know an A.C. Nielsen?”
“Pick it up, pick it up, please!” I spring from my place and make a mad dash toward my son holding the handset.
My son probably thinks it is a long-lost friend I’ve been waiting to hear from for twenty years. Fortunately, I get to the phone in time.
“Hello, yes, yes, I am the head of the household,” I reply, breathless with anticipation.
First, a little history…
In the late eighties and early nineties, I am living in South Florida, just north of Fort Lauderdale. I am a department director and teaching media & entertainment business, and film art courses at a college in Fort Lauderdale.
It’s 1988. I receive notice by mail that my household is randomly selected to be an Arbitron home. Being a media nerd I jump at the chance. What an opportunity! Holy cow. I waste no time responding to Arbitron.
I call the phone number and gush about how much I want to help. I cannot wait! I better tone it down, lest they suspect I am too thrilled.
For goodness sake, I designed a “Ratings and Analysis” class for the bachelor’s program and am teaching it. So here I am, a sample household. Joy, rapture! It’s better than winning the lottery, well on par at least.
After speaking with the Arbitron folks over the phone, and making it through their initial round of questioning, they tell me they will be back in touch. Okay. I’m standing by. Hurry up, please.
I am chosen to become a metered household. This is what I am teaching about, and now I get to live it. When can I start? Well, I am eagerly anticipating the equipment, but before any install, an Arbitron agent must come by the home for a personal interview. Perhaps they want to double-check that the sample household isn’t harboring the local ABC affiliate station manager. In any case, they soon stop by – unannounced.
My partner at the time gets to the door before I do. I am in the other room on my computer.
“It’s someone from Arbitron, they want to meet with you,” she calls out.
“Okay, I’ll be right out,” I shout back.
“Oh shit,” I mutter in a panic.
“My Broadcasting journals are on the coffee table. They are going think I’m in the media business and cancel my chances. What do I do?”
I am a faithful subscriber to Broadcasting magazine, a professional journal. I require students in my Media Business classes to buy 16 week student subscriptions. It’s better than a textbook. I also follow and read many other entertainment and telecom industry journals, which pepper the bookshelves in my office and my home.
On my way to the front door to greet the nice lady, I nonchalantly shuffle my magazines on the coffee table, gently covering Broadcasting with some other magazine. Billboard gets dropped between the couch and wall. Whew, close call.
“Come in. I’m thrilled to meet you. Please have a seat. Can I get you something to drink?” Is my excitement too obvious? Tone it down, I am thinking to myself.
Here we both sit on the couch next to my coffee table with the most recent media industry professional journal du jour, now mostly obscured. I think the spine is still peeking out, shit. Does she see the ratings analysis books on my shelves? I hope not. My telecommunication engineering, entertainment economics, broadcasting industry, media management, media statistics textbooks are all over my shelves. Oh the horror of it. I work to keep her focused on me, on the couch.
She grills me with the same questions I answered during the phone interview.
“Are you employed in the media industry?” She asks.
“What do you do?” The grilling continues.
“I teach college, and am a department director,” I answer, swallowing hard.
“Do you have any direct family members in the media business?” She asks.
I do have a distant “uncle” who is VP of NBC news, but I am not in touch with him at all. No need to mention it.
“Oh, what do you teach?” She probes.
She’s friendly. I like her. And she works for Arbitron, holy cow! They are like the CIA of media. No, don’t ask her for her autograph! Stop it. Be cool.
“I teach business courses, general & entertainment business, video production classes and other stuff,” I answer.
I open up a bit to her. We get into a nice conversation. She knows the college and some of the people that work there. She is pretty cool. I am already fantasizing about having an inside contact to this mystery company that sits at the heart of advertising revenue, media marketing, and ratings. Maybe I can get a tour? Will she come and speak to my students? Stay focused.
I pass the in-home second interview with flying colors. She seems to enjoy our conversation. I look forward to a long relationship with the Arbitron lady. We bid farewell after our pleasant chat and she tells me a technician crew will schedule an installation with me.
Yes! Cool! I’m In Like Flint! Oooops, my sixties are showing.
A few days later the Arbitron tech crew arrives at my house, in an unmarked van of course.
The fun is about to begin.
Now, go conquer the day!
Oh, and go cancel your cable tier package subscription. Please don’t feed the mega corporate media monsters, thank you.
The Jurassic Media Professor
“Copyright © 7MAR17 by Steven A. Schwab”