How to Join Nielsen TV Ratings

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Most of us have heard of Nielsen TV ratings, but we don’t exactly know how they’re calculated. We know they’re important, but we don’t know how important. In truth, Nielsen ratings can make or break a TV show, and they’re calculated by people just like you. That’s a whole lot of power if you’re a major TV fan. So, who gets to actually work on Nielsen ratings, and how can you participate? Unfortunately, it’s the luck of the draw.

What Are Nielsen Ratings?

For more than 90 years, Nielsen ratings have measured how much certain demographics of TV watchers like certain TV shows. It’s one of the major ways if not the major way that TV shows can price commercials.

Ever wonder why commercials for the Super Bowl are so expensive? That’s because the Nielsen TV survey found that it consistently has some of the highest ratings in America. The fewer people who watch a show, the cheaper the ad space. Nielsen’s ratings also help networks determine whether to renew or cancel a series or order more episodes from the success of a pilot.

In recent years, Nielsen has also started collecting data from streaming services and DVRs. Obviously, today it would be highly inaccurate to rely solely on live TV.

Nielsen Ratings: How to Participate

Unfortunately for TV fans, you can’t apply to become a Nielsen family. The company has certain criteria and hand picks families whose data they want to collect. They start by choosing a state, picking a county and then choosing a group of blocks within that county.

The families selected are then invited to participate and get a measurement device that picks up audio codes and determines what the family is watching. To the general public, it seems pretty random, but Nielsen is trying to get the most fair and unbiased ratings by randomly selecting who is included.

Who Can’t Participate in Nielsen Ratings?

One of the major caveats regarding Nielsen ratings and how to participate has to do with career. Even if families are chosen at random, they can’t participate in a Nielsen TV survey if they’re members of the media or if someone in the household works for Nielsen. Everyone else is fair game.

You Can Sign Up for a Nielsen Panel

Nielsen may not allow families to apply for their TV survey, but you can apply to be part of their computer and mobile panel or one of Nielsen’s consumer panels. The former takes data from your internet usage, and the latter tracks the products you buy using hand-held and mobile scanners. Both offer various compensation in the form of prizes and sweepstakes. The application can be found on Nielsen's website.

Nielsen Meter Privacy

If you agree to be a Nielsen family, you are inherently allowing Nielsen to collect data about you and your viewing habits through a meter. Hand-written Nielsen TV surveys are a thing of the past. Nielsen meter privacy is obviously a huge concern, but the company strives to keep things ultra private and follows global standards about data collection.

The company claims they don’t generally keep any information about families other than their demographic, and they limit data about specific individuals at every turn possible. In other words, Nielsen meter privacy is probably more stringent than Facebook.

How Much Does Nielsen Compensate Families?

Families and individuals do get compensation for helping Nielsen collect their data, but it’s not a get-rich-quick scheme. Some families report making around $15 per month. The digital panel may make even less.

Nielsen gives away a $10,000 prize each month to one lucky panelist. There are other prizes and more benefits to participating. The longer you allow Nielsen to collect your data, the more prizes you can win.