Charles (A.C.) Nielsen established and gave his name to the world's
largest market research organization and to the principal U.S. television
ratings system. After working as an engineer in the Chicago area,
in 1923, with investments from former fraternity brothers he established
a firm which reported surveys of the performance and production
of industrial equipment. A decade later--during the Great Depression--faced
with reduced manufacturing on which to study and report, the company
launched the Nielsen Food and Drug Index. Begun in 1933 and 1934,
these regular reports on volume and price of packaged good sales
in a national sample of grocery stores and pharmacies became essential
to the packaged goods industry. And A. C. Nielsen became the preeminent
U.S. marketing research firm.
the Depression was also a period of rapid growth for radio and radio
advertising Nielsen was encouraged to begin measuring radio audiences.
In the spring of 1936 he attended a meeting of the Market Research
Council in New York at which the speaker was Massachusetts Institute
of Technology (MIT) instructor Robert Elder. Elder described the
use of a mechanical recorder which could be attached to the tuning
mechanism of a radio receiver, providing a continuous record of
the stations to which the set was tuned. The device had been developed
independently by Claude Robinson while a student at Columbia University
and by Elder with Louis F. Woodruff at MIT. Nielsen quickly acquired
the meters that had so far been produced, as well as patent rights
and trademark registration for the Audimeter, as the device was
known. Regular audience surveys conducted with the Audimeter (the
Nielsen Radio Index or NRI) began in December 1942. The Audimeter
became the principal form of radio ratings when in March 1950 Nielsen
purchased C. E. Hooper's radio and television ratings services.
In 1939 the A. C. Nielsen Co. Ltd., had been organized in London.
The internationalization of the company increased, especially after
1957 when A. C. Nielsen, Jr. became company president.
In 1963 Congressional Hearings studying ratings and their influence
upon programming in television focused considerable criticism upon
the ratings industry and on the reliability of audience measurement
surveys. In that same year Nielsen had discontinued radio Audimeter
reports because the increased number of radio stations on the dial
made it difficult for the device to distinguish among them. As a
stop-gap measure, the company began a diary survey method for radio
measurement (Audiologs). Weaknesses in this method attracted unfavorable
attention during the hearings. Nielsen shut down the Audiolog operation,
designed what he considered a reliable radio audience measurement
system and attempted to market it to the radio industry. Finding
much resistance he never brought this service into being.
1963 Nielsen was out of the radio ratings business, preferring to
concentrate on the relatively young national and local television
audience measurement services--the National Television Index (NTI)
and Nielsen Station Index (NSI), respectively. In June 1980 A. C.
Nielsen died in Chicago.
1984 his company merged with information giant Dunn and Bradstreet.
Arthur C. Nielsen
Photo courtesy of A.C. Nielsen Company
CHARLES NIELSEN, SR. Born in Chicago, Illinois, U.S.A., 5 September
1897. Educated at University of Wisconsin, B.S. summa cum laude
1918. Married: Gertrude B. Smith, 1918; three daughters, two sons.
Served in U.S. Naval Reserve, 1918. Worked as electrical engineer
for Isko Company, Chicago, 1919-20, and H. P. Gould Company, Chicago,
1920-23; president, 1923-57, and chair, 1957-80, A. C. Nielsen Company;
established numerous Nielsen offices in U.S. and abroad. Recipient:
silver medal, Annual Advertisement Awards Committee, 1936; award
for outstanding service, Chicago Federated Advertisements Club,
1941; Paul D. Converse Award, American Marketing Association, 1951
and 1970; elected to Hall of Fame in Distribution in 1953; Knight
in Order of Dannebrog, 1961; Parlin Memorial Award, 1963; annual
award, International Advertisement Association, 1966; marketing
Man of the Year, 1970; elected to National Lawn Tennis Hall of Fame,
1971. Died in Chicago, Illinois, 1 June 1980.
Karen. Chains of Gold: Marketing the Ratings and Rating the Markets.
Metuchen, New Jersey: Scarecrow Press, 1990.
Electronic Media Ratings: Turning Audiences Into Dollars and
Sense. Boston, Massachusetts: Focal, 1992.
also A.C. Nielsen