The Story Behind the “Nielsen” Name

By Phin Upham

Most of us know the name “Nielsen” as a brand for tracking television and Internet statistics. You’ve no-doubt heard at least someone referring to Nielsen statistics or a poll. The man, A.C. Nielsen, was born in 1919 in Winnetka Illinois. After brief service in the military, he would become an integral part of his father’s ratings and market-research business.

Nielsen wanted to leverage the power of computing to track the vast amount of information that the company was processing. He was the driving force behind modern data collection in many ways, and the Nielsen brand is often thought of as the first to use computers in the field of big data management. Their computer of choice? A behemoth known as the IBM Univac, something so massive in size that an entire building needed to be constructed to house it.

Nielsen’s penchant for technology didn’t stop at computers. He was fortunate enough to recognize the growing popularity of something called “television,” which was only just beginning to take off. Nielsen’s company was the first to attempt measurement of television viewership, a practice it has only refined in the years since then.

After he retired in the middle of the 1980s Nielsen became the company’s chair emeritus. He oversaw the company during the Dun & Bradstreet transition, and grew quite unhappy with the direction his family business was heading in. unfortunately, there was little that Nielsen himself could do about it. The business split in two after a series of unfortunate decisions, and then it was purchased by VNU, a fellow media firm. Although they kept the Nielsen name, the company was noticeably different.

A.C. Nielsen Jr. died of Parkinson’s Disease in 2011. He was 92.

About the Author: Phin Upham is an investor at a family office/ hedgefund, where he focuses on special situation illiquid investing. Before this position, Phin Upham was working at Morgan Stanley in the Media and Telecom group. You may contact Phin on his Phin Upham website or Twitter page.

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