We're a Nielsen Family

Some men are born great, while others have greatness thrust upon them. Mine was not born a Nielsen family. Rather, that honor was thrust upon us.

Of course, I didn't answer the phone anytime the caller id read "NIELSEN COMPANY." They called us over and over again, at different times of the evening, and I did my level best to ignore them. My diligent inactivity failed one evening when the company name didn't appear on my phone.

Tricked by the number displayed, I picked up the phone. My mistake was immediately clear. I wasn't asked if I wanted them to send me their television diary, I was simply informed that my family had been selected for the "important job" of reporting our television viewing habits to them.

My first instinct was to tell the nice lady on the phone precisely where she could put her television diary, but she was such a nice lady that I decided not to do that. After all, it's pretty easy to keep a diary of doing nothing. She seemed so happy when I didn't hang up on her; I'm pretty sure she gets hung up on a lot. I let her go through her spiel as quickly as possible and promised to be on the lookout for our precious diary in the mail.

The diary arrived right on schedule, along with a gift for our efforts in the form of five fresh-from-the-bank dollar bills. In addition to the small amount of cash, the diary came with meticulous instructions and several reassurances that the task before us was somehow vital to the National Interest. Other than having to figure out what broadcast channels our television gets, starting the diary was pretty easy, kind of like taking a test you don't care about when you affirmatively have none of the answers.

Tonight is our last night to keep our diary. So far we have watched precisely 0 hours of television, at least as Nielsen defines television. Apparently Netflix and Hulu and Amazon Prime and YouTube don't count as television to Nielsen, not even when you watch them on your television. That's a pretty neat trick with definitions, one that saved us a lot of effort this week.

If we had used the antenna attached to our television, that would have counted. We didn't use the antenna, though, because there wasn't a game of sportball that we wanted to watch on an over-the air broadcast this week (we did stream some games, though!). Other than sports we only use the antenna when we have tornados in the area, and February has been blissfully tornado free around here.

Every night we have dutifully noted our failure to watch any TV, which apparently is a rather important task. Tomorrow I will mail our sad little diary back to the fine folks at Nielsen (who were nice enough to call again midweek to make sure we were understanding the whole concept of a television viewing diary). The most amusing part of the whole process has been looking at the question about why you didn't watch any television in the (presumably unlikely) event that you spent the week with no television viewing. We were presented with multiple options to choose from to explain our lack of television, such as "television is broken" and "on vacation." Oddly, "chose not to watch any of the idiocy" was not an option. We went with "other."

This week of tracking our television viewing habits hasn't been as annoying as I expected. I've been reminded that the world is changing fast, too fast for the old powers of our society to adjust. Here's this television diary that's supposed to set the rates for advertisers on different programs available on the boobtube, and that's so important, but we're not watching. I know we're not alone in our abstinence. Lots and lots of people just like us are watching no television of the type Nielsen tracks in any given week.

The times, they have changed. I confess to be encouraged by that.