In the Loop

In the Loop: September 10, 2007 Archive

Big brother is watching you watch "Big Brother"

Posted at 11:33 AM on September 10, 2007 by Sanden Totten (4 Comments)

I've always wondered where TV ratings come from. How do they know what shows people are watching? I imagined a bunch of scientists were sitting in a room watching a TV that showed exactly what I was watching at any given moment. If I flipped to MTV, their TV would flip to MTV. If I switched to a Trading Spaces marathon, they would switch to a Trading Spaces marathon. They'd scribble furiously on clipboards with every change I made, taking notes on my habits. Sometimes I would leave on Bravo or The History Channel to make them think I was more refined than I really I am . . . then again, I'm sure they figured me out after they realized I would watch several episodes of Saved by the Bell in a row on a daily basis.

(Photo via
But that's ridiculous and a bit creepy. Who wants someone monitoring every bit of media you consume? Well, I guess advertisers do.

Enter the Portable People Meter. It's a pager sized tool that keeps track of your media diet. You simply strap it on, go about your daily business and it takes notes on what you watch. Eventually the results get sent back to the ratings guru Arbitron.

But the creepy thing about the Portable People Meter is that it has the potential to monitor not just your TV habits, but your radio and Internet habits as well. Even at a bar or in a cab the People Meter will pick up what's going on around you. Advertisers will have reports on every second of your media consumption.

I guess that's not so bad in theory. It could be good for advertisers to spend less but more effectively reach an interested audience . . . Mostly it troubles me that someone will know how much crap we really fill our lives with. I guess it's time we start leaving on PBS and Public Radio in cabs and barrooms, so the scientists think we've got some substance to us. Then, when we aren't carrying our People Meter we can sneak away to watch Zack Morris or a Real World marathon.

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