Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport Written Evidence


Memorandum submitted by Brian Butterworth, UK Free TV

  I have written to both Ofcom and the Gambling Commission because I feel that these TV channels are in breach of the current laws, and certainly against the principles that Parliament has laid down for the various types of gaming that are allowed in this country. I am writing to you because I feel that they have provided no useful feedback.

  Let me declare my interests. Firstly, I run a website called UK Free TV, which provides an independent source of information about non-subscription television in the UK which has over 130,000 visitors each month and and over monthly 250,000 page impressions http://www.ukfree.tv

  Secondly, I was involved with the creation of the first gaming TV channels in the UK, the TV-bingo Avago, just over five years ago, and for this reason I feel that I know this subject well.

  I wrote to Ofcom to complain on 11 September 2006. I reproduce the letter here to give an overview of the points that I hope you will be investigating:

  I believe that these programs, which are broadcast on the Freeview digital television service, are not legal:

    —  ITV Play (24 hour).

    —  QuizCall (24 hour, also on five).

    —  ftn: "Quiz Night Live" (10 pm until 1 am).

    —  The Music Factory: "Pop the Q" (midnight until 3 am).

    —  ITV-1: ITV Play (midnight-4 am).

    —  ITV-2 ITV Play (1 am-4 am).

    —  TMF: Pop The Q.

    —  The Hits: Cash Call.

    —  Five Life/US:The Great British Quiz Channel.

  Firstly, these television channels present themselves as "games of skill", whereas they are actually "games of chance". This can easily be demonstrated by the fact that for ITV Play to make the profits they have stated in public requires 130 people to be "trying to get though to the studio" at any one time, for 24 hours a day.

  If I remember my A-level statistics course correctly, if you have a game of skill that requires a game of chance to enter, then the overall outcome is a game of chance. I thought games of chance (lotteries) were illegal outside The National Lottery.

  Secondly, the chances of getting though to try to suggest an answer is not fixed odds, but varying odds dependent on the size of the prize and the number of other callers. Nowhere on screen is any attempt made to explain the odds.

  Thirdly, two of the channels run 24 hours a day, and therefore are accessible to those under 16 who are not allowed by law to gamble. There is never an on-screen message to point this out, and the brands used by ITV Play are popular with Children (such as Coronation Street.

  As you do not need to register, there is no protection for those who are disqualified from playing. I have seen "competitions" that require the caller to name children's television or cartoon characters, which can only be aimed at children.

  Is there not a duty on the promoter of a competition to ensure that anyone playing is qualified to do so? Is it legal to aim any lottery/competition at children? Should the set and setting for the quiz channel not be aimed at adults, rather than look like Children's television channels?

  Fourthly, why is the language used so misleading? For example, on the ITV Play channel:

    "Next caller Triple Money" does not mean 2the next person who calls gets triple money" but "the next person WHO SURVIVES THE LOTTERY will get triple money". The cost of the call is not on-screen for the same time as the number that can be called and not at the same point size.

  Fifthly, should access to these channels be limited to those who can prove that they are over 15? For example, Sky Digital has a system to limit viewing of movies by use of a PIN number during daytime hours. Why should these channels, if they are legal at all, be allowed to broadcast during daytime hours without similar protection?

  It is my opinion that these channels are just like letting children into a bookmakers or casino, which is illegal.

  The Gambling Commission told me that "Games of chance outside the National Lottery are legal if run for charitable, cultural or sporting purposes, but is illegal for them to be run for private or commercial gain. This is why such schemes have to be run as competitions."

  It appears to me that because it is random if you "get though to the studio" before you can guess the answer to the question, this is a GAME OF CHANCE.

  (Normal TV quizzes pool the answers to a question FIRST and then select from a correct answer, rather than the lottery for the prize coming first).

  I wrote to the Gambling Commission to ask their advise, and here is their reply:

LETTER FROM THE GAMBLING COMMISSION TO BRIAN BUTTERWORTH

  Programmes and television channels such as the ones you have referred to are classed as games of skill and are therefore legal as they are competitions rather than lotteries. Games of chance outside the National Lottery are legal if run for charitable, cultural or sporting purposes, but is illegal for them to be run for private or commercial gain. This is why such schemes have to be run as competitions.

  There is currently no legal definition of skill and this along with the fact that such competitions involve an element of chance are things that the Gambling Act 2005, which will be fully implemented in September 2007 will be addressing. I suggest that you have a look at the consultation papers that we have on this subject and you can make any comments that you have on this subject to us at any time until 31 October 2006, the address to send them to is contained in the consultation paper. The relevant documents can be found on our website (the address is shown below) and by clicking on the Consultation section, they are on the right hand side of the page.

  Competitions are not regulated by any specific body, it is up to the people who are running them to ensure that they are legal. There is also no age limit on competitions unless the prizes that are on offer are age restricted. You should address your concerns to the Office of Communications (Ofcom) as they are responsible for regulating the UK communications industries. The address of their website is www.ofcom.org.uk

31October 2006





 
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