EXCLUSIVE | Inside a house with an OzTam ratings box

In an unassuming flat in an outer Sydney suburb lives Jenny, one of the most powerful people in television. Her viewing choices help shape our television schedules.

As I sit down to have a cup of tea and some biscuits with Jenny (not her real name), I notice a strange looking box sitting next to her television. The letter “A” is displayed on the bright green screen. This is the reason for my visit today - I am going to experience what it’s like to be a viewer with a ratings box.

Jenny has one of the 1,475 ratings boxes in Sydney’s metropolitan area. Across the 5 cap cities there are 5,250 boxes in the homes of people who fall into various demographics. The viewing choices made by these people determine whether a show is considered a success or failure.

Jenny is very aware of the responsibility of having one of these boxes;

“I have got that power to say, "I don't like this". I can say like I'm not recording, or I'm not watching it, therefore I don't have to watch it, it's not going to get the ratings”

As I continue chatting with Jenny we turn on the TV and she explains how she adds my details before we can start watching TV;

“I've got a designated letter, that represents me, so I am actually A, because I'm the main owner, but if I have a visitor, I have to add the person in, so I put in B, and I put down the age they are, and whether they're male or female.

Jenny enters my details as we watch Seven’s afternoon news. As we change the channel over to Nine, Jenny explains the box will monitor her viewing choices but she only needs to change the TV with her normal remote.

YOU CAN LISTEN TO THE ENTIRE INTERVIEW WITH JENNY IN THE PLAYER HERE;

There is nothing more required from Jenny until she leaves the room. The box assumes Jenny is there until she hits a button on the remote notifying the unit she is leaving the room. If nothing has been entered into the OzTam remote for several hours and the channel has not been changed, OzTam will assume the unit and television have been left on accidentally.

If the viewing habits of a household suddenly changes, OzTam will contact the panel members to make sure the data is being collected correctly;

“They ring me when they think, "Oh, something's not quite right." So that's what they've done a few times, when I'm not home or something like that, or I've forgotten to do something.”

While panel members aren’t directly paid for participating, they earn points for contributing. Once a panel member has accumulated enough points they can redeem them for gift vouchers and products. The points system entices households to continue taking part;

“It was annoying in the start. It was more of, "Okay hang on, I've got to go do this, I'll come back and do it later. Oh, I've forgotten something, I'll have to go back, oh, hang on, click that back on again." So yeah, I've got used to that now”

Data is downloaded by OzTam at approximately 2am each morning with official reports released at 8.58am. Jenny says the whole unit lights up and emits a green glow as the entire front panel lights up.

For her part Jenny enjoys being part of OzTam’s panel and helping to shape what Australian’s watch;

“You want to keep the shows that you like on air. I have that bonus to actually say, "Well, I like this show, I want this show”. So that's how I see the power”.