THE MAIL BOX – Today’s mail is the usual: silly threats from the IRS wanting money, ransom notes and, what’s this? It’s addressed to “TV Viewer.” A letter from Nielsen, that snoopy firm that determines who watches what on TV and thus rules the industry. Got good Nielsen ratings, you’re set for another season of You Bet Your Folks. Bad ratings and you’re as dead as the second coming of Murphy Brown. The letter begins: “We sent a Nielsen Representative to visit you in person, but have been unable to reach you.” No, they haven’t. I stay home all the time for fear of another Comanche attack, and you can’t be too careful about Vikings. The letter goes on to say they are interested in what I watch on TV but: “We understand that door-to-door contact in your area is not possible, and at Nielsen we completely respect and honor your community’s privacy policies.” They make it sound like I live in a monetary or the White House. We have no gate, guards or moat, so what are they talking about? Anyway, they want to send a representative to my house to tell me in person what it means to be a Nielsen rater.
My Momma didn’t raise no idiots, although she did always refer to me as “my slow one.” So this total stranger shows up at my doorstep, clipboard in hand, comes in and asks: “Now where are your TV sets? And your silver, antiques and safe? Exactly when will you not be watching TV, like when you will be going on vacation?” On the other hand, the letter does go on to say what a community leader I am, how my TV viewing habits are very important, etc. This reminds me of those questionnaires I keep getting, and maybe you do too, from the Republican National Committee: “As a leader in your community, your input is very important to the GOP as we draw up our policies for the 2020 elections. Please answer the following questions: Do you think Donald Trump is a great president or our greatest president? Would you ever set foot in that vermin and rat-infested city of Baltimore? Should Nancy Pelosi be (a) sold as a love slave to ISIS (b) drawn and quartered or (c) burned on a pile of Mueller Reports?” Their letters always end with a note saying they accept Visa, cash or beaver pelts.
But letting Nielsen tap my TV might help improve the vast wasteland, because it is clear America’s TV viewers need help. According to Nielsen, there were 119.6 million TV homes in the U.S. for the 2017–18 TV season. The number of persons age 2 and older in TV households is estimated to be 304.5 million. CBS’s The Big Bang Theory finished the 2017-2018 TV season as the country’s most watched series with an average of 18.634 million viewers. NBC’s NFL Sunday Night Football was the season’s highest-rated series in the key18-49 demographics. OK, I watch Sunday Night Football if my team is playing. When I read a list of the most-watched TV shows of the week or season, not only did I not watch them, I never even heard of most of them. Always finishing in the most-viewed shows are America’s Got Talent, the Bachelorette and Celebrity Family Feud. Millions of Americans watch WWE SmackDown! It’s a wrestling show, for crying out loud.
This is not to say my TV viewing habits are so sophisticated and brainy that I only watch the BBC, the National Geographic Channel and test patterns. I love The Three Stooges, Roadrunner cartoons and it’s hard to beat a James Bond movie, although after Number 32 they all seem the same. (Bond is captured by the evil Doctor Drano, escapes with a bunch of girls in bikinis and everything ends in a huge explosion.) On the week of April 16, 2019, CNN had its lowest primetime weekly ratings overall and in the key age demographic. I watch CNN a lot, but apparently not enough. And I like 60 Minutes, the only show that rates high, although the demographics show most viewers are over 90.
But Nielsen has problems these days with accurate numbers. So many viewers now watch shows on DVDs, iPads, reflections in mirrors and on a cable strung from their neighbor’s house. What if you leave the TV on and run errands? Nielsen thinks you’re watching. The TV is on in a bar or airport terminal and no one is watching. After Nielsen took over the contract for producing data on Irish advertising in 2009, agencies said the results were “disastrous” and claimed that the information produced by Nielsen was too inaccurate to be trusted by them or their clients. Turner Network president David Levy said, “We are in a new era of media and it’s time to retire the Nielsen television metric. While it undoubtedly served its purpose, it no longer fully captures how to successfully measure an audience in today’s landscape.” We must suspect Turner’s shows didn’t get very good ratings.
Still, the U.S. networks live and die over those figures, so maybe I, being a most important TV Viewer, should sign up because, in doing so, what I watch reflects the viewing habits of millions of untapped Americans. Hereafter, so long, Fox News (an oxymoron if ever there was one). PBS is now the most-watched network on TV, especially Friday’s debate between Shields and Brooks. Football rules! 60 Minutes is a must see! The 5:30 p.m. network news appeals to a selective audience – the elderly. Look at any expressway at 5:30 and they are clogged with wage slaves who are not watching the news. Sponsors know only AARP members are their viewing audience, so the commercials are for back pain, heart attacks and nursing homes. But according to my viewing, everyone watches the 5:30 news and, of course, The Three Stooges.
Ashby is rated at email@example.com