The unhappily named ICSTIS has published its latest annual report. Recently in the news over TV quiz scams, it has sharp teeth with a power to levy fines up to £250,000 and shut premium lines, but is it in danger of being gobbled up by Ofcom? James Pond reports on its report.
When: April 2007
For the first time ever after over 20 years of existence the premium rate regulator ICSTIS has issued an annual report, the snappily titled "Annual Statement 2007-08" (available here). This relatively short document sets out some key details from ICSTIS's performance over the past year together with twelve corporate objectives for 2007-08.
The timing of this report, coming in the midst of what is something of a crisis in respect of call TV quiz services, is perhaps slightly unfortunate. Whilst the crisis continues to rumble on in the media following the recent allegations of malpractice at GMTV being made by the BBC's Panorama programme, the focus of attention and blame for the current scandal has shifted to the regulators Ofcom and ICSTIS.
Unsurprisingly, then, one of the twelve objectives that ICSTIS has set itself is to work with the broadcasting sector to establish appropriate regulation for call TV quiz services and to improve viewer services with participation/voting TV generally.
However will ICSTIS survive long enough to see this objective through? In the report ICSTIS acknowledges that Ofcom is currently undertaking a review of the scope of ICSTIS's regulation, which the ICSTIS chairman "welcomes". However it remains to be seen, in light of the call TV quiz debate, whether Ofcom will ultimately decide that regulation of premium rate services is best handled by a separate body, particularly as this can lead to confusion as to which regulator is responsible for monitoring and enforcing the call TV quiz rules.
At present ICSTIS is responsible for the day to day regulation of the promotion and operation of premium rate services such as whether callers are overcharged or whether the pricing of the call is free, whilst Ofcom regulates the editorial standards in programming such as investigations into fake winners. Although Ofcom already has general oversight of ICSTIS's activities, the existence of two separate regulators (or even three, if you count the Gambling Commission as well) with responsibility in the call TV quiz sector is potentially confusing and unhelpful.
In making a case for an independent ICSTIS to continue to exist, it is unfortunate that the report also acknowledges that complaint numbers made to it have fallen by a whopping 37% on the previous year, although ICSTIS stresses that there wasn't a corresponding reduction in investigations actually carried out. This suggests that either the level of public satisfaction with premium rate services is significantly increasing or else complaints are just not getting through to ICSTIS. In light of the current media attention on call TV quiz services and previous high-profile issues such as the marketing of the Crazy Frog ringtone, the former explanation seems unlikely.
Furthermore, although ICSTIS levied fines of over £1.1 million in total during the past year, it only expects to be able to recover "at least 70%" of the fines levied – a collection rate which is stated to be much improved from previous years.
ICSTIS itself acknowledges it needs to do better with promoting its existence and role to members of the public and the industry, and the report states that it is looking to re-brand the organisation. Although ICSTIS – the Independent Committee for the Supervision of Standards of Telephone Information Services – is a familiar name to many marketers, it doesn't exactly roll off the tongue and a re-branding exercise is likely to be a positive step in engaging with the public at large and helping make consumers aware of the premium rate services regulator and its activities.
Why this matters:
Although the jury is still out as to whether ICSTIS will continue as a separate regulator in some form, proposals for significant changes to the regulation of premium rate services can be expected from Ofcom in the not-too-distant future. Anyone involved in running premium rate services should watch this space for further developments.