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  • Writer's pictureD. Randall Faro

Nielsen . . . Maybe Not

Updated: May 3, 2020

It was reported that 111 million people watched Superbowl VI in February 2017. I watched it, but I didn’t know that someone was peeking in my den window to see if I was . . . or that some secret recording device had hacked my viewing habits. Well, it really doesn’t work that way.

Nielsen Media Research is the “industry” standard. Here’s how they do it. They get five thousand people to agree to have a special “black box” (computer plus modem) put on their TVs to monitor their viewing habits. The 5,000 are touted as a “representative sampling” or “sample audience.” There are right around one hundred million households in the U.S. with TVs, so Nielsen’s published results of viewing habits is based on approximately 0.005 percent of potential TV watchers.

Would you bet your life on .005% probability of something? For instance, if someone offered you a million buck to cross a canyon on a tightrope, but with a 99.995% that you wouldn’t make it, would you do it? Yet advertisers often bet the life of their products based on Nielsen’s ratings, spending, for instance, over seven million bucks for a thirty-second Superbowl commercial. (Some $70 billion is spent annually on TV advertising.) Then there was 2014 when Nielsen acknowledged that it had been reporting inaccurate ratings for the broadcast networks for the last seven months, a mistake that raises questions about the company’s increasingly criticized system for measuring TV audiences.

Much of life is an educated guess, but there’s education and there’s education. With decision making, especially when considering monumentally important ones, one does well to do purposeful, serious homework. Fact-checking can mean the difference between success or failure, good or not-so-good, even life or death. Be it purchasing on the stock market or buying a street drug, research is a capital KEY component. Getting one’s information from the National Inquirer is not enough. Exploring a variety of responsible information sources on any given issue is not only prudent, it’s the sane way to approach life’s decisions.

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