Nielsen, A. C.

Nielsen, A. C. (Arthur Charles Nielsen) nēlˈsən [key], 1897–1980, American market researcher, b. Chicago, grad. Univ. of Wisconsin, Madison (B.S., 1918). He worked as an electrical engineer before founding the A. C. Nielsen Co. in 1923. The firm was one of the first to offer market research, working mainly in the food and drug industries before branching out (1936) to the rating of radio programs. In 1952 it began a television rating service, which soon made the company famous, feared, and highly influential in broadcasting. Nielsen used boxes placed in randomly selected homes to monitor the television viewing habits of Americans; the popularity ratings extrapolated from its results often determined the future of television programs.

His son, A. C. Nielsen, Jr., 1919–2011, b. Winnetka, Ill., grad. Univ. of Wisconsin (B.S., 1941), joined the firm in 1945, worked in various positions, succeeded his father as president in 1957, and became chairman and CEO when his father retired in 1974. Under his leadership, the company adopted (1948) computer technology and moved into new and lucrative areas including acting as a clearinghouse for coupons, tracking magazine subscription rates, developing scanning technology to track consumer purchases, and undertaking market research in publishing, energy, and other industries. He retired in 1984.

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