“Nielsen. The TV ratings people, right?”


“Right! But, we’re so much more. The Nielsen Company is the largest marketing research company in the world. Beyond television we also measure and analyze trends and consumer behavior around the globe in the mobile, online and consumer packaged goods industries.” That’s pretty much the way the conversation goes whenever I share with anyone that I work for Nielsen.

But for today, let’s talk about those TV ratings. Many people indicate they’ve never known anyone who has been a Nielsen TV family. Well, that could be because when you are a Nielsen home, you’re asked to keep it confidential. We don’t want our households to be compromised in any way. And then there are the skeptics who say: “Well, I’ve never been contacted by Nielsen. Do they even include Black folks?” Absolutely we do. Nielsen randomly selects households based on addresses and our sample is totally representative of the country’s diverse population. Every household has an equal chance of being randomly selected. Scout’s honor. And no, we don’t select homes based on how much or how little you watch TV. Our only requirement is that you have a TV!

Depending on where you live and the size of the city you live in once you’ve accepted our offer to be a Nielsen household you’ll either be asked to complete a Nielsen diary for a week, or if you live in one of the top 26 largest U.S. cities, our technicians will install a Local People Meter on all of your sets and every electronic device (video games, DVRs VCRs etc.,) attached to your sets. And from that point on, every 2.7 seconds we electronically measure what your household is viewing. But alas, I have to clarify: Nielsen is not measuring every single home in the United States. If you are not a Nielsen household, what you watch is not being measured. Our households are samples of the total viewing audience. So don’t believe the hype when a star tweets you and asks you to tune into their show to impact their ratings! Sorry. It just doesn’t work that way.

Each year Nielsen releases a TV Audience Report to our clients. According to the 2009 Report African-Americans watch a lot more TV than the general population. Per week, individual Black viewers tune in an average of 46 hours and 34 minutes compared to individuals in general population households who tune in an average of 33 hours and 47 minutes. Viewing hours based on total household tuning comes in at 78 hours and 44 minutes; compared to 58 hours and 29 minutes for other households. These are average numbers of course, so your household may watch more or less TV. I know in my household, on any given Saturday, you can find me decompressing from a hectic work week catching up on all of the shows I’d stored during the week on my DVR. And yes, I actually watch the commercials that are really good and jump out at me.

What has fascinated me ever since I started with the company is how diverse our viewing habits can be, especially by geography. African-Americans in Detroit may not watch the same shows as Blacks in Baltimore or even Chicago. Remember the 2010 Oscars? Well, television viewing during that period back in March showed that The Academy Awards on ABC won hands down across the board for African-American households. But the No. 2 slot varied by geography. Those of us in Chicago, Detroit, Washington, D.C., Philadelphia and Miami were in Oscar mode and gave second place honors to Oscar’s “Red Carpet 2010” on ABC. In Los Angeles, however, the “Barbara Walters Special” on ABC came in second place, while New Yorkers preferred the “11:00 Eyewitness News” on ABC. The No. 3 spot? In Miami and New York, that honor went to “American Idol,” Tuesday on FOX, while Black folks in Philadelphia and Chicago preferred “Dancing with the Stars” on ABC. (Okay. I admit it. I am a closet DWTS addict). But those of you in Detroit and Washington, D.C., gave third place ratings to the NCAA Basketball Championship—Sunday: Game 2 on CBS. Interestingly enough “Dancing With The Stars,” ranked consistently in the Top 10 for Black viewers—do you think it was Niecy Nash that appealed to us this season?

If you’re as fascinated with all of this as I am, visit http://www.nielsen.com to learn more. Because, knowledge is always power.

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