The House of Commons Culture, Media and Sport Committee has published a report on the increasingly controversial ‘Call TV’ quiz show phenomenon. How do these stack up against existing prize competition laws?
Topic: Betting and gaming
Who: House of Commons Culture, Media and Sport Committee
When: January 2007
The cross-party House of Commons Culture, Media and Sport Committee issued a report on Call TV quiz shows, recommending a tougher regulatory regime.
Call TV quiz shows are an increasingly popular genre. Typically they involve viewers watching a live broadcast programme and sending text messages or making premium rate telephone calls in order to take part. The broadcaster takes a proportion of the call revenue. There is often an alternative free entry route via the internet.
Over recent months, the genre has attracted a good deal of adverse publicity due to consumer complaints over fairness and transparency issues. The Select Committee has found that it has not always been made clear that it is a matter of luck whether players' calls are connected to the studio and there has been a concern that viewers are not always given a clear sense as to their chances of getting through, the cost of calling and how much they may typically need to spend in order to win a prize. The Committee also raised concerns about 'shabby practices' on the part of some in the sector, including allegations of games being set that are almost impossible to solve, and call handling processes being manipulated so as to maximise revenue.
They have recommended that the two key regulators, Ofcom and ICSTIS, be "more energetic" in enforcing their rules in this area, and that certain areas of their regimes should be tightened. In particular, the Committee has called for a requirement that viewers be given more information allowing them to have a reasonable understanding of the odds of getting through to the studio.
Why this matters:
Although the Select Committee's report focuses on Call TV quiz shows, it also raises some potential issues for promotional quizzes and prize competitions.
In particular, it questions the suitability of internet free entry routes and whether these would genuinely be available to participants. The report cites statistics published by Ofcom to the effect that (a) only 28% of consumers aged over 65, and 35% of those in socio-economic groups D and E, have access to the internet; (b) only 25% of consumers with annual incomes up to £11,500 have internet access at home, compared with 88% of those with incomes over £30,000, and a national average of 61%.
Of course, once the new regime under the Gambling Act 2005 is in place (expected September 2007), many purchase-linked prize draws will no longer have to feature a free entry route. However, for those promotions that will still require an alternative free entry route (eg because they involve a premium rate call or text), careful consideration will have to given as to whether an internet entry route is appropriate in light of the demographic of the target audience.
The report also unexpectedly suggests that Call TV quizzes should be categorised as 'gaming' under the Gambling Act 2005. This would of course fly in the face of case law under the Gaming Act 1968, which has generally required an activity to involve a degree of interactivity, or at least communication, between participants in order for it to amount to 'gaming'. Given that the definition of gaming in the new Act applies "whether or not [the player] risks losing anything at the game", a shift like this could also lead to many promotion mechanics equally being caught as 'gaming' and hence subject to the licensing requirements and advertising restrictions applicable under the new Act.