The premium telephony regulator has introduced new rules designed to restore confidence in the sector. Julian Clover reports
It’s been a bad few months for the participation TV sector. January’s criticisms from MPs on the Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee were followed by a series of scandals that enveloped the big 5 channels. Edward Boddington, CEO of Harvest Media Group, told me that the production areas were like a pilot flying into a cloud, unaware of what was around them.
Harvest builds the interactive solutions around the big shows; Pop Idol, American Idol and X-Factor. He separates the participation TV elements of the Saturday night variety brands from call TV that builds entire blocks or even channels around premium funded phone lines.
The regulator ICSTIS, responding to the MP’s criticisms has, issued a series of rules to broadcasters running call-in shows. Carolyn Maze, MD of Optimistic Entertainment, which runs formats on TMF in the UK, TF1 in France and the Game Show Network in the United States, works closely with ICSTIS and already had its own rules in place.
“We try to employ the strictest of guidelines on everyone of our productions to ensure we are offering the most fair, honest and transparent service to viewers,” explains Maze. “We absolutely agree with the need to be transparent. When you have a live programme it’s near impossible to give an assessment of what the odds are, so what we do after every game is to show how many calls have been received, and we’re the only ones who are doing that”
Broadcasters will be required to display the number of entries received in the previous 15 minutes, updated at 15-minute intervals. Pricing information must also be given by a presenter or voice over every ten minutes. Call cost warnings must all be given to callers spending more than £10 in a calendar day.
Maze says the negative press has had an effect on the participation rate, but it has not been as great as some people might have expected, the sector, she says, needs a good cleansing. “If you alienate your viewers, then they won’t come back, and your churn rate is going to be very high”