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Mayday for Nielsen Diary Method?

English: 040702-N-5539C-001 Pearl Harbor, Hawa...

Jay Mohr: "Action" Star


Once upon a time, I was part of a Nielsen diary family. The ratings service later wrote me to say my results were being thrown out after I wrote a column about my experience.

And what an experience it was. As I recall, each member of the family received a whopping $1 for the week to fill out a diary (I’m told they’ve gotten a raise since) that explained what we each watched for seven days.

Needless to say, being paid substantially below minimum wage wasn’t much of an incentive to keep the diary that accurately. I learned to understand why so many diary members may have filled out the week with smart shows they wished they had watched rather than dumb shows they did watch.

Before Buffalo was metered in April of 2000, the diary method is believed to have been partly responsible for making Irv Weinstein and Eyewitness News so dominant for years. According to the un-provable theory, WNYers just filled in Eyewitness News in their dairies as their primary news source out of habit.

Over the years many people have written me a letter and questioned the results of the rating services. They usually say something like this: “I can’t believe nobody watches my favorite show (fill in the blank) and it is going to be canceled. Everyone I know watches it. It is smart and involving. Nielsen (and Arbitron before it) has to be wrong.”

I bring this up because those complainers have some evidence on their side this May. According to the Media Daily News, a trade publication, Nielsen has acknowledged problems that impacted the May diary results. The MDN said Nielsen blamed printing errors that affected the diaries and problems at its call center operations, which help dairy keepers fill their pages out.

The MDN added that the problems have “frustrated station executives” around the country, but that Nielsen claims it “made adjustments in a timely enough fashion so that May sweeps data is sound and station executives can be assured that ratings are reliable.”

Count Channel 2 executives among the frustrated after the local May demographics measuring different age groups arrived. The household ratings arrive here daily by meters and a few weeks later the demographics – which are more important to many advertisers – arrive.

I’m not going to bore you (as usual) with numbers, but will tell you that Channel 4 did better in the demos in some time periods than expected and Channel 2 did worse than expected.

Channel 2 is complaining about the results and especially believes that Channel 4’s ratings in one key time period for the age 50-54 demo is preposterous and practically impossible.

The whole mess has sparked some debate on whether using diaries – which always have given some questionable results – is even more untrustworthy in an age when just about everyone is attached to some technological device (iPad, iPhone, android) and less willing to write down anything by hand.

 I mean I don’t get many hand-written letters anymore from complainers. They just send me emails from their phones, computers or iPads.

I suspect after reading this that the people who wrote handwritten letters to me over the years will now think “Boomtown,” “EZ Streets,” “Action” with Jay Mohr, “Profit” and “Nearly Noon with Danny Neaverth” really had larger audiences and never should have been canceled.

If you don’t have HBO and are interested in Aaron Sorkin’s new series “The Newsroom,” the pay-cable network has a free deal for you. HBO is showing Sunday’s pilot for free on HBO.com, YouTube, DailyMotion, TV.com and some cable operators’ Free On Demand feature. ( I haven’t checked Time Warner Cable, but I know a local member of the PR staff is a regular reader so maybe he will answer that question).

According to published reports, “The Newsroom” had a strong debut for HBO, getting around the same number of viewers as “Game of Thrones” did in its debut. That’s if you trust Nielsen. Of course, HBO runs “The Newsroom” several times a week to get a cumulative rating so the debut rating isn’t as important as the debut ratings of network shows.


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7 responses to "Mayday for Nielsen Diary Method?"

  1. Randy says:

    My mother-in-law completed the Nielsen diary a few weeks ago. She received a dollar.

  2. Neal says:

    Nielson actually came and wired up my TV so they could monitor directly what I watched. It was a pain though because they have to take everything apart. They give you a check each month for like $5 to cover the electricity their equipment uses.

    I remember I always used to leave the TV on when I left the house to go to my friends house to watch the Bills games!

  3. Tina says:

    This may be off topic but let me use this moment to say that I am now watching Channel 4 weekend edition. Jennifer Stenonis is not watchable and Mike Cejka is key for me as far as the weather report is concerned.Some may not care but I am still resenting what they did to Autumn and I never did care for Jennifer. She is not a good addition by any means and most likely got the job because of her looks since she doesn’t even have a meteorology degree as of yet.

    • First off, I must say that the idea of news departments hiring “weatherbabes” based on their looks has some truth to it. I know it’s not comfortable to acknowledge, but when I first started applying for work right out of college the first several jobs for which I applied went to women who had no meteorology experience whatsoever, but fit the stereotype of pretty, young and blonde. (The subsequent discouragement is part of the reason I no longer job-hunt in this field as much as I used to.) So it is certainly a factor.

      However, in Jennifer’s case, I can’t see it being the major factor. Channel 2 has a long track record of hiring the castoffs from channels 4 and 7, especially in recent years. Jen had left 7 to pursue that meteorology degree (it’s a heavy course load) and now that she has the summer off 2 pounced on the chance to get her (whereas 7 still has a field reporter doing their Accuweather relay). That, to me, seems like the bigger factor in pushing Autumn aside (the fact that they never even had the opening when Autumn departed before they hired Jennifer indicates to me they wanted to get her in from the get-go and needed to get someone out of the way) than looks; after all, Autumn fits the stereotype as well, although she has a degree.

      The problem I have with Jennifer, and perhaps it’s her fairly deep voice, but she tends to be relatively dry. At least Maria Genero has a dynamic personality and although I’m not thrilled about her accuracy all the time, she does a good job of illustrating the forecast.

      • Tina says:

        I read yesterday in the Buffalo News that Autumn will be starting at Channel 7. Needless to say I am happy for her and just might start watching again since I think they are doing a bit better in other areas as well.

        I never cared for Jennifer’s style of weather reporting and like you said, she is very “dry” and lacks charisma and personality. At least Autumn was bubbly and very “girl next door” but at the same time very knowledgeable about the weather. Maria is fine but she is a bit odd and awkward at times, especially her constant “mhhmms, ahhh’s and of course that creepy laugh of hers.

  4. Christine says:

    I completed a Nielsen survey late last year and I believe I got paid $10. I filled it out faithfully because I wanted to make sure my favorite shows got some love!

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