When I was a DJ someone started stealing my mail in order to get the music the labels sent me. Labels would call me and ask about a particular song and I had no idea what they were talking about and that’s how I found out. Now we have two mailing addresses, a rented PO Box for all shipments, important mail etc. that stopped the theft. The other is for the house junk mail.
Once a month I go to our regular mail box to clean out the junk. I open each piece to make sure there are no credit card offers or anything with pertinent information. One particular piece I opened had two single dollar bills in it. I look at the two dollars, think that’s strange, and read the letter that was in the envelope. It said something about joining the Nielsen family. “Fill out this questionnaire and send it back.” I looked it over, checked on line and it seemed to be legit. They didn’t ask for any information that could be used for fraud so I filled out the form and sent it back.
Some time passes and we get a phone call. It’s the Nielsen Company. They tell me that we fit the demographics that they are researching and they want us to be a part of the family. I am down for this so I agree to an “interview”. It’s not really an interview, more an informational exercise. The representative comes to the house and tells us how it works. She says they are going to put a box on every television in the house and our responsibility is to turn it on, tell it who is watching TV and resume normal viewing…..for two years. That’s it!! Nothing more, nothing less. Oh and they will send us some cash several times a year. Wait, I get PAID to watch TV?? AWW YEAH BABY!!! I tell them to hook us up.
A team of people come in and wire the TV’s with set top boxes called People Meters. Each People Meter records whatever is watched and for how long as well as what is recorded. The meter knows which family member is watching by means of a small remote control with a number that is assigned to each member of the family including the kids. We are each given a number and that number is programmed into the meter. They teach us how to log in and log out with our number. If you are watching a particular station for “X number of minutes the meter will flash your number to ensure you are physically watching the show. You have to acknowledge the flash by clicking your number.This is to ensure you didn't fall asleep or you are not "watching" a show just to help its ratings.
They tell us the rules some of which include; we cannot tell anyone we are participating. We cannot accept any money or incentives from any media. That is a form of cheating to gain ratings. If a guest is in the house we have to assign that guest a meter number. At the end of the evaluation we still cannot tell anyone we were participating for two more years in case they decide to bring us back into the family. Pretty simple rules huh? Oh yeah, the one thing I forgot to mention, each person watching TV in our house represents 125,000 people. Now if you calculate that for a given show then theoretically we decided that up to 500,000 Black people were watching NASCAR because I NASCAR and consequently so does the rest of the family and “guests”. LOL
You would think being a Nielsen family would be easy but it can be daunting at times. Think about it, we are helping shape what the media thinks “we” watch. In some ways that’s good (bye bye lame ass WSB Channel 2 news) in that we can report that “we” all don’t watch sports or the real house pros of Atlanta but we do like Jeopardy and PBS. In some ways that’s bad because some of the shows “we” are supposed to be watching we don’t and that hurts opportunities for current and future minority shows. Eventually we get accustomed to the boxes and it becomes a part of normal TV watching.
Now being honest, at times I felt guilty about watching car shows all day when something “good” was on but shit, I like cars!! I would rather watch Chip Foose Overhaul a car than watch the presidential debate trying to overhaul lies. Then there are the kid shows. Really, how many times are “we” going to watch the same freaking yellow sponge laugh and do stupid shit and WHY IS THERE A SQUIRREL UNDERWATER??? Was she supposed to be the minority on the show as the only “air” breather? I digress.
Once every couple of months we would receive a visit from the Rep who often brought dinner and a check. Yes, paid and fed to watch TV!! It doesn’t get any better than…well it does but the freebies and cash were cool!! She would ask us how things are going and check the cables and meters to make sure they were not tampered with. Two years blow by and the company comes and picks up the meters. The Rep is with them and she thanks us for our service and reminds us not to talk about our participation in case they decide to use us again.
Well that time is up and we never heard from them again. I have to say the experience was kind of exciting. We were able to persuade media moguls that “we” like things that “they” did not know we liked AND “we” hated crap TV. I would say the only let down was the team leaving. It was like a break up you saw coming but hoped wouldn’t happen. You want another two years but they say, “I got what I need, buh bye” and so with dinner provided once again, a handshake and $100 check I watch her walk out the door for the final time, and much like Marcus to Jacqueline in the movie “Boomerang” I was literally saying to the rep, “Call me”.