Controversy over Call TV Quiz shows

United Kingdom

House of Commons report 

The House of Commons (“HOC”) report was published on 25 January 2007 following an investigation last autumn.  It makes several recommendations to provide greater clarity on the regulation of Call TV Quiz shows and to improve transparency of game mechanisms for viewers.   Typically, the viewer watches a live broadcast programme, sends a text message or makes a premium rate telephone call in order to take part and then fails to connect with the studio.  The broadcaster keeps a proportion of the call revenue, which funds the programme.  The HOC considered that the shows have the “look and feel” of gambling, but are not regulated as such, and was highly critical of a number of underhand and misleading practices.

The main considerations and recommendations of the report are as follows:

  1. The Gambling Commission, OFCOM and ICSTIS are all involved in regulating the area but the extent of their individual roles is unclear.  The HOC recommends that, while each regulator has expertise in a distinct area, OFCOM should take the lead so that there is one clearly identifiable body to whom all complaints can be addressed. 
  2. The HOC considers that the shows should be treated as gaming under the new Gambling Act on the basis that some participants do not choose a free entry route (where there is one).  They ask the Gambling Commission to consider the appropriate categorisation as a matter of urgency.  (In fact the Gambling Commission has previously expressed the view that such shows are in the nature of illegal lotteries.)  
  3. The HOC encourages the use of alerting systems which keep callers informed as to how many calls they make and/or how much they have spent; they suggested that this should become obligatory.  Further, they recommend that broadcasters display the GamCare telephone number at regular intervals and request that ICSTIS make changes to its rules to ensure that all viewers understand the costs of participation.  
  4. Based on concerns about the ambiguity and obscurity of some questions and answers, they recommend that OFCOM requires broadcasters to inform viewers that puzzle solutions may not be as simple as they seem and that there may be a cryptic element.  They add that OFCOM should consider making it obligatory to verify games and lodge solutions with independent third parties.  A further recommendation is that OFCOM should consider whether operators not only have to reveal the solutions but also how such solutions are reached.
  5. The HOC confirm that blocking calls from entry (for example, as a result of a caller exceeding a maximum number of calls) and deliberately misleading callers about call volume could be fraudulent and amount to a criminal offence.  They further ask BT to find a solution to stop the technical problem of charging a caller even when they are not entered into the competition.  In the meantime callers must be refunded where this occurs.
  6. Generally, players are not told that the chances of connecting with the studio are very slim.  Although there are difficulties in calculating odds accurately for any given time, the HOC suggests that this is not an insurmountable problem and should be considered based on historical information.  Following this, ICSTIS has put forward some suggestions on this area in its report (see below).

For the full HOC report click here

ICSTIS consultation

The ICSTIS review and consultation issued on 29 January 2007 sets out suggested modifications to the existing “Statement of Expectations” concerning this sector.  The main proposals are: spoken pricing announcements at intervals of no more than 10 minutes (previously it was between 5 and 15 minutes); cumulative call warnings at no more than each £10 spent by a caller each day to minimise the risk of “bill shock”; transparency as to the actual chances of success in any one call being put through to the studio (the suggested calculations are by reference to recent blocks of programming); and presenter scripts which make it clear that most participants will not get through.  The closing date for comment is 12 March 2007.  For the full ICSTIS document click here.

Further consultations

OFCOM’s pre-consultation document into “Participation TV” issued on 15 December 2006,  considers these same types of quiz shows, as well as other shows which depend wholly or mainly on audience participation.  However, its focus is whether such shows, containing repeated messages to viewers to call (or text) in, should be classed as advertising, editorial or as a hybrid of both.  Clearly, if deemed to be advertising, they would have to comply with advertising rules.  For the full OFCOM document click here.

As well as the newly problematic area of Call TV Quiz shows, there continues to be uncertainty surrounding the advertising of gambling under the new Gambling Act, due to come into force in September 2007.  A consultation published by the Gambling Commission on 23 January 2007 poses important questions, including whether gambling advertisements should contain obligatory warnings and/or educational messages and whether an advertiser’s licensing status should be stated.  The paper also asks for views on how such requirements would best be enforced: by statutory regulation, licensing conditions or on a voluntary basis.  The closing date for responses is 6 March 2007.  The responses will be considered in connection with amendments to the CAP and BCAP Codes on Advertising, Sales Promotion and Direct Marketing, again to come into force by September 2007.