This device—the “black box” of the television ratings system—gathered information from households about media listening and viewing habits from 1949 until the early 1970s. Connected to a radio or television, it registered set use and station tuning by exposing 16-mm film to a pinpoint of light. When changed by the homeowner weekly, the film cartridge ejected a quarter to ensure timely mailings to the Nielsen Company for analysis. The data gleaned from sample homes enabled campaign pollsters to track viewing patterns during candidates’ television appearances and to refine schedules of paid political advertising.
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