Dear Diary…

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If you’ve ever questioned whether or not God had a sense of humor, the answer is in:  Oh yes, he absolutely does.  Because today, October 27th, 2011, the 17th anniversary of the first ads on the web, something very special is happening in my life.

Today, I — Doug Weaver — become “a Nielsen Household.”  Oh, sweet irony.

From the moment the diary and supporting materials arrived in the mail, this became an exercise in anthropology for me.  If you’ve never been solicited to complete a “TV Diary,” it’s like stepping into a Potemkin village frozen in the age of Cosby and Cheers.  “By completing a TV Viewing Diary, your household will have the opportunity to play an important role in producing the TV ratings!   Your household’s TV viewing will represent many homes in your community.”  Willikers!

Doing one of these for a week is no small undertaking either.  You start by answering a few baseline questions, like “How many TV sets are in your home?”  Gosh, let’s see…we’ll there are the three that pretty much stay there all the time; but do I subtract the one that has no connectivity and just feeds off the DVD player?  And do I count my laptop when I call up Hulu and watch some back episodes of Modern Family? OK…mustn’t get too bogged down. Next question: “Including yourself, does anyone living in this home have at least one working cell phone?”  Hmmm…let me check with Aunt Bea and see if she’s got one. Hello?  2011 calling…

The Drift is proudly underwritten this week by PulsePoint, the digital technology company that helps publishers gain deeper visibility in to audience and content, increase first party ad sales revenue and access new opportunities to drive greater business results.

Before moving onto actually recording your actual viewing, you’re supposed to write down the channel number, station or channel name and city for every channel that each television set in your home picks up.  City? The origination point for a signal is relevant exactly how?  And there are — what — 815 channels on DirecTV?  That part of the project would likely take up a good portion of Saturday morning, so good thing I’m motivated.  The Nielsen Company, you see, enclosed five crisp new one dollar bills in the envelope!  That’s right baby, you heard it:  Washingtons!

So today’s the day.  If there’s time, I might have Sports Center on for a few minutes in the hotel for background while I’m getting ready….Oh, wait….not at home.  Hmm…what to do?  Over the next couple of days I might look at a clip of a Jimmy Fallon bit that someone e-mails me; watch 30 minutes of the World Series in a restaurant bar; catch up on an episode or two of the long-defunct but classic HBO series The Wire on the iPad on my plane flight;  then perhaps flop down late Friday night and zip through the past four days of  The Daily Show on TiVo — sans commercials.  Now, how is it I’m supposed to write all this down in my diary?

The truth is, I’m consuming media all the time.  And I’m also being exposed to a fair bit of advertising on an almost constant basis.  But what ends up in the rigid, 1974 framework of my Nielsen Diary?  Thursday: No Viewing…Friday: No Viewing…. Saturday: No Viewing….
Forgetting about the fact that actual media usage is going unrecorded, there’s an even bigger problem here:  Who in the hell would ever take the time to fill these things out? I mean, clearly someone must be.  But I just can’t imagine what kind of life and relationship with media they must have.  Could they possibly be a representative sample? Representative of what?

Folks, this is the cornerstone on which the entire financial structure of TV buying is built.  If he’s not consumed with laughter, may God help us all.

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