Participation TV hits the headlines

United Kingdom

This article was produced by Olswang LLP, which joined with CMS on 1 May 2017.

Our January update reported on Ofcom's pre-consultation paper on participation TV, and inquiries by ICTSIS and Parliament. Since then, premium rate TV phone-ins, interactive competitions and viewer voting have all come under intense media and regulatory scrutiny. The ICSTIS investigation has thrown up various revelations, including the faking of competition results and callers paying to enter competitions after the winner has been decided, all of which has resulted in a new set of rules. In addition, the Gambling Commission has re-opened its consultation on the issue.

Some of television's best-known shows including GMTV, Blue Peter, Richard & Judy, Saturday Kitchen, X-Factor and Dancing on Ice have come under investigation by ICSTIS, with perhaps the most significant development since the recent scrutiny began being the decision of ITV to axe its ITV Play channel from Freeview and Sky Digital.

The result of ICSTIS' investigation is the introduction of new rules which will come into force at the beginning of May 2007. Broadcasters will be obliged to publish the chances of callers getting through to the studio in near real-time, and prominently and permanently display the total number of entries in the preceding 15 minutes, updated every 10 minutes. Pricing information must be given every 10 minutes by presenters or voice-overs, and any customers spending over £10 in a calendar day must be given cost warnings.

ICSTIS has also asked broadcasters to review their services in relation to the criteria of connectivity, content, costs, contact and value chain responsibilities, and plans to introduce systematic monitoring systems to ensure all phone lines are being run in line with regulations. There are also plans to oblige service providers to publish complete, accurate and easily understood rules for all competitions, and ICSTIS has further announced it will introduce a licensing system within three months for premium rate service providers operating participation TV services. It is intended that the system will define where responsibility lies for compliance with the ICSTIS Code of Practice and may include the introduction of a trust mark or quality standard for providers.

Culture Secretary Tessa Jowell has also indicated that she would be in favour of giving greater powers to both Ofcom and ICSTIS in the context of call-TV regulation if necessary.

In addition, the issue still remains as to how the Gambling Commission will categorise participation TV competitions once the Gambling Act 2005 comes into force in September this year. This is particularly the case as the Gambling Commission has re-opened the consultation on what constitutes "payment to enter". It appears that this is specifically because the Commission remains unconvinced that the provision of a free entry route on a website should take competitions such as those on call-TV outside the scope of the Gambling Act 2005. Furthermore, as set out in our previous coverage, there is a risk that, in their current form, many such competitions could be classified as lotteries under the new legislation, meaning operators would require a licence and be compelled to give 20% of their profits to charity. The letter inviting responses can be found on the Gambling Commission website, and the deadline is 9 May 2007.