Arthur C. Nielsen, Jr., 1919-2011

“If you can put a number on it, then you know something,” the late Arthur C. Nielsen Jr., who died earlier this month, reportedly said his father once told him. If you use or refer to metrics, analytics and box office statistics, you are cashing in on Mr. Nielsen’s work, because he was president and chairman of the A. C. Nielsen Company founded by his father. The Nielsen Company pioneered gathering, reporting and analyzing consumer data and it still dominates such information in the entertainment industry, especially television. Arthur Nielsen, whose life began and ended in Winnetka, Illinois, became president of his father’s modest television statistics firm in 1957 and he was named chairman in 1975. According to newspaper obituaries, he took the business from making under $4 million a year to $680 million in annual revenue. The World War 2 veteran, who served as a major in the Corps of Engineers, was assigned during the war to construct a building that would function as a place to operate a machine. The machine’s purpose? To generate highly complex tables that would calculate for accuracy the metrics of firing huge artillery guns. Nielsen was fascinated and became a passionate exponent and innovator of what the company called a “measurement science.” Among those innovations are of course the famous Nielsen ratings that continue to define, frame and shape television markets. Whether they know it or not, future practitioners and pioneers in entertainment industry statistics analysis, such as my former business partner, Box Office Mojo founder Brandon Gray, gained enormous value from Mr. Nielsen’s work. He leaves behind much more than the world’s leading market research business. Art Nielsen, as he was known to his colleagues, ran, fostered and kept re-creating a technology-based business that advanced our understanding of the arts and business. Gaining knowledge of what people choose to consume helps us learn why they consume it, which helps artists produce richer, more compelling work for people to consume. By taking measure of what people consume, Nielsen’s distinguished career improved both the art of business and the business of art.

Support this site; Share