Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport Written Evidence

Memorandum submitted by Ben R Good

  As creator of I have spent several months gathering evidence against television based premium rate quiz channels that are operating "illegal lotteries". I believe the Government must intervene NOW to protect the most vulnerable people in society from this misleading and potentially dangerous new television format.

  For clarification, this document refers to the specific television format that can be summarized as follows:

    A presenter stands in a studio with some form of puzzle or brainteaser on a screen. Viewers are encouraged to phone a premium rate number where they are instantly charged as much as £1, even if they do not get through. Very few callers actually get through to the programme. The presenter spends long periods of time doing nothing but repeating the need for viewers to call. The chances or odds of success are unknown, however even simple looking questions are often engineered to produce unexpected answers. Premium rate quiz channels use a series of carefully calculated methods to mislead viewers and ensure maximum revenue from calls with minimum payout.

  I suggest that the Inquiry consider the following points:

    —    Under the Lotteries and Amusements Act 1976, a lottery is the distribution of prizes by chance, where the persons taking part makes a payment for consideration in return for their chance at that prize. 20% of all proceeds must go to good causes. These quiz shows are operating as "illegal lotteries". The chance of winning is based not upon knowing the correct answer, but primarily upon having your call answered. Knowing the answer is a secondary issue. Call TV quiz programmes are attempting to dodge gambling laws by setting a quiz question or puzzle. This is blatantly a lottery in a thinly veiled disguise as a game of skill.

    —    Viewers are repeatedly encouraged to "get dialling" by a presenter who give an impression of having no callers. As minute after minute ticks by with no calls answered, the presenter uses statements such as "you are just a phone-call away from winning, hurry up and call now!". This is untrue, misleading and in breach Ofcom guidelines. In reality, many hundreds or even thousands of people may be trying to call at any time.

    —    Puzzle questions often have such a difficult, contrived or meaningless answer it ensures no winners but plenty of premium rate callers trying. For example: A picture of seven cars with the question—"count the number of cars". The answer will end up being something such as 543 but with little explanation of why. Or, "name a popular leisure activity". Answer "tightrope walking in Cumbria".

    —    There is a "free web entry facility" on ITV PLAY (I am unaware if other programme makers have the same). This method, as suggested in the media, is an impossible way to get on air, yet allows the programme maker to stay within various guidelines by the Gambling Commission. This entry method is hidden behind several other pages on the ITV PLAY website, making it difficult to locate. Very rarely do presenters mention this entry method.

  The Times Newspaper recently exposed a string of misleading tactics that are used to ensure maximum revenue from calls. The Times took part in The Mint, a show on ITV Play.

  The challenge was to guess what word is jumbled up in these letters: C O R L F N A K E The presenters gave a string of clues, including suggesting that "you eat them for breakfast", and "they taste good covered in chocolate".

    The Times telephoned 15 times during the programme, but failed to get on air, at a cost of £11.25.

    The game lasted 10 minutes before the presenter took a call, a delay that could leave some viewers thinking that there were few or no callers.

    The presenters repeatedly said: "Please do not delay calling." They never directly commented on the number phoning in at any point.

    The presenters did not mention the free-entry route, instead insisting: "You need to be making a call." It was shown on an onscreen ticker.

  Please refer to the following newspaper articles that provide an accurate account of the problems with Call TV Quiz shows (not printed here).

  Please refer to my website for more evidence including video footage.

12 November 2006

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