Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport Written Evidence


Memorandum submitted by Sparrowhawk Entertainment Ltd

INTRODUCTION

  1.  Sparrowhawk Entertainment Limited ("SEL") welcomes the opportunity to provide this written submission in response to the inquiry of the Culture, Media and Sport Committee (the "Committee") into Call TV quiz shows.

  2.  SEL is the broadcaster of the basic pay tv channels known as the Hallmark Channel and Movies 24 (and its time-shift channel More24) in the UK. Hallmark Channel launched in 2000 on Sky and also has been carried on ntl/Telewest since 2001 and 2002 respectively, and on Homechoice since 2005. Movies 24 launched on Sky in July 2006 and with effect from 21 November 2006 will be carried on ntl/telewest too, whilst More 24 is carried on Sky only. SEL is part of the Sparrowhawk Media Group of companies which also distributes the Hallmark Channel in a number of European territories and around the world outside the US. All our European broadcast operations are subject to compliance with OFCOM broadcast licenses.

  3.  SEL's participation in the Call TV business is limited to a broadcast each weekday between 13.05 and 14.55 on the Hallmark Channel entitled the Hallmark Channel Quiz, which was launched in March 2006. The Hallmark Channel Quiz is produced and supplied to SEL by Big Game Television Limited. The following responses are based, therefore, on the experiences of SEL in relation to that programme and our general observations about the industry.

  4.  It may be helpful to explain our rationale for broadcasting the Hallmark Channel Quiz and why we have commissioned Big Game TV to produce the show for us. Hallmark Channel is a channel dedicated to providing entertainment to its viewers, principally by airing compelling drama television series and tv movies, but also in the case of this programme in providing more interactive entertainment for our audiences. We decided to commission the programme for this broadcast slot as the audiences for this time period were lower than other day parts and we hoped to improve audiences with other forms of entertainment.

  5.  When we decided to commission the production of the programme we were careful to select a production company which we believed is responsible in producing programmes which entertain but also are legally and ethically sound and, without limitation, comply with the relevant OFCOM and ICSTIS codes. Indeed our arrangements with Big Game TV specifically require their ongoing compliance with all relevant codes and regulations. We were impressed with Big Game TV's experience in the area of Call TV and its involvement, for example, in the ICSTIS working group for the creation of a voluntary code of practice on the running of Call TV programmes.

  Taking each of the issues raised in the Notice of New Enquiry dated 24 October 2006 in turn SEL would make the following points:

A.  PROCEDURES FOR HANDLING CALLS FROM VIEWERS

  6.  We understand Big Game's call handling procedures in respect of the Hallmark Quiz to be as follows:

    6.1  participants call a premium rate number (or, if they have entered via the Hallmark Channel Quiz website, they are called by Big Game);

    6.2  calls are randomly selected by Big Game's telephony system;

    6.3  all calls are charged whether successful or not; and

    6.4  successful callers are put through to the television studio and given the opportunity to answer the on screen question and, if correct, to win a prize[14].

  7.  Hallmark Channel Quiz viewers may participate by two methods:

    7.1  Premium rate number

    Participants may call the Hallmark Channel Quiz premium rate telephone number, in which case they will be charged 75p from a BT landline (other networks may vary).

    Big Game sets its telephony systems to randomly select a particular proportion of callers, the proportion depending on a number of factors, but primarily based on the ratio between the number of callers that are to be put through to the studio and the total number of entries. The unsuccessful callers will hear the following message:

          "Welcome to the Hallmark Channel Quiz and thanks for playing along today. Sorry you haven't been selected this time, but please feel free to try again. Calls cost 75p from a BT landline; other networks may vary."

    Callers who are selected at this first stage hear the following message:

          "Congratulations! You are now through to the next stage. Please hold the line to see whether it's YOU who goes through to the Hallmark Channel Quiz studio to play for a BIG cash prize live on air..."

    Callers are put on hold for two rings, and if they are selected at this stage, they will be put through to the studio for the chance to answer the question and win a prize. If the caller is not selected within that time (whether because no call is taken within that time, or because a call is taken but another caller is selected), then the caller hears the following message:

          "Sorry, you haven't been successful this time, but please feel free to call Hallmark Channel Quiz again. Calls cost 75p from a BT landline; other networks may vary."

    Big Game also has systems in place for identifying frequent callers, who (in addition to the above messages) will hear the following announcement:

          "This is the Hallmark Channel Quiz. Our records show that you are a frequent caller. Please remember that you are charged 75p every time you call. Please hold the line to see whether you've been selected to go through to our studio to play for a BIG cash prize live on air..."

    7.2  Free web entry

    Participants may submit entries via the Hallmark Channel Quiz website, in which case no charge is made.

    A set proportion of web entries are randomly selected as successful, and Big Game telephones the successful entrants using the phone number supplied by the entrant when (s)he submitted the online entry. The proportion of successful web entrants is calculated so that the chance of being successful as a web entrant is the same as the chance of being successful as a premium number caller, ie the system for selecting contestants does not distinguish between (paying) calling and (non-paying) web entrants.

B.  INFORMATION PROVIDED TO VIEWERS ON THE COSTS OF CALLS AND THEIR CHANCES OF PARTICIPATING AND WINNING

Cost of Calls

  8.  In order to ensure compliance with the Ofcom Broadcasting Code and (in particular) the ICSTIS Code and Statement of Expectations in relation to the cost of participating (as well as best practice), we understand that Big Game operates the following procedures in respect of the Hallmark Channel Quiz:

    8.1  the presenter explains the rules of the competition regularly and frequently, several times an hour (including every time a new game is played)—this includes (among other things) the following details:

    8.1.1  that all calls cost 75p (from a BT landline—other networks may vary) whether the caller is selected or not;

    8.1.2  that callers must be aged 18 or over;

    8.1.3  that callers must have the telephone bill payer's permission before calling;

    8.1.4  that terms and conditions are available online or by writing to our PO Box address; and

    8.1.5  that free web entry is available.

    8.2  the following information is clearly displayed on screen in a banner at the bottom of the screen—the banner repeats each piece of information frequently (at present on a cycle of 45 seconds, with each piece of information on screen for approximately 6½ seconds at a time):

    Callers must be 18 or over

    Every call is 75p from a BT landline

    whether you are selected or not

    other networks may vary

    Terms and conditions at www.hallmarkchannelquiz.tv

    PO Box 5372, London W1A 8WN

    Free web entry available

    We understand from Big Game that its on screen banner meets best practice as it is clearer and easier to read than that of many of its competitors.

  9.  In addition to the above on screen information, each time a caller calls we believe that (s)he is informed of the costs by means of the telephone messages set out in paragraph 0 above.

  10.  Based on the format of the Hallmark Channel Quiz it is difficult to see what else can be done or needs to be done to advise viewers of the call charges in view of the scrolling information referred to above. Adding further information to an already crowded screen runs the risk of reducing the clarity of the information provided on screen. We believe that by watching and/or listening to the programme which is the only reason to participate in the quiz show, all viewers should be aware of the costs, and they are reminded of these costs when they call in or are called by the programme.

Chances of participating and winning

  11.  Although SEL is committed to best practice in the broadcast of the Hallmark Channel Quiz, and with Big Game TV is prepared to implement compliance-related policies that may not be strictly required by Ofcom or ICSTIS, to date we have not attempted to provide such information on the chances of participating or winning because:

    —  it is not practicable to do so, since rates of calls received vary throughout the show and tracking that rate and providing an onscreen representation of the rate is impracticable;

    —  it could prove misleading since the rates vary during a show based on the editorial flow of each quiz within each programme; and

    —  it is not necessary, nor in keeping with the requirements of any other quiz or competition operated in any other media. Viewers, like any other entrants of competitions, know that there are a number of other potential entrants. Participation is as much about picking the right time to join in the quiz as knowing the answers to the questions of the quiz.

  We take this view, even though the chances of participating in the Hallmark Channel Quiz are likely to be greater than other Call TV programmes.

  It also appears to SEL that requiring such information on odds to viewers of Call TV, is out of line with the regulation of all other formats of competition for which the chances of winning will always depend on the number of people seeking to participate in that same competition.

C.  THE ROLE OF CALL TV QUIZ SHOWS IN RAISING INCOME FOR BROADCASTERS

  12.  All SEL income from the Hallmark Channel Quiz is derived from a share of premium rate telephony revenues generated from the show, since it is antithetical to the pace and editorial content of a programme of this nature to have interruptions for advertising, and the sponsorship opportunities for this type of programme are very limited.

  13.  Inevitably SEL looks to obtain revenue from the Hallmark Channel Quiz to replace the advertising revenue which we forego in broadcasting the Hallmark Channel Quiz. If the entertainment value of the programme is sufficient we would also hope that to be reflected in increased revenue. However, our experience is that the Hallmark Channel Quiz is not "a licence to print money" as the media has alleged in respect of some other Call TV programmes. It is worth noting that the minority of the 75p per call charged by the telephone companies actually passes through to the broadcaster. From the original 75p charge and after the initial deduction for VAT, a wide range of costs, including the telephony partner's share, the costs of production of the programme, prize money for the contestants all need to be covered.

D.  THE IMPACT, FINANCIAL OR OTHERWISE, OF PARTICIPATION ON VIEWERS

  14.  SEL is not in a position to comment upon this issue other than to make general observations.

  15.  First and foremost the Hallmark Channel Quiz is intended to be a form of entertainment in keeping with the reputation of the Hallmark Channel to be an entertaining television channel with general appeal and a reputation for dramatic and exciting content. The appeal of participating in the Hallmark Channel Quiz is as much about appearing in the television programme as the opportunity to win small but nonetheless exciting amounts of prize money. It is not in our interests for our loyal viewers to spend beyond their means on our programme, because they will not be able to sustain their participation and will stop playing, and even worse for the Hallmark Channel, may stop watching at all which would affect the overall advertising revenue of the Hallmark Channel which represents a significant portion of our overall revenue. Accordingly, the presenters of the Hallmark Channel Quiz frequently tell the audience to participate within their means.

  16.  SEL is a responsible broadcaster, and with the on screen banners described above Big Game make it clear to all participants that they must be aged 18 or over, and are therefore consenting adults who are free to choose what to do with their own money.

E.  WHETHER FURTHER REGULATION OF CALL TV QUIZ SHOWS IS REQUIRED

  17.  In our view the area of Call TV is already regulated by a number of bodies—OFCOM, ICSTIS and the Gambling Commission. Should further regulation be required we shall of course abide by any rules introduced. However it is our view that stringent regulation is already in place such as the need to provide clear information on the costs of participation and that so far as the Hallmark Channel Quiz is concerned Big Game TV go beyond the requirements of the regulations and emphasize the need to behave sensibly whilst enjoying participating in the Hallmark Channel Quiz programme. We also believe that ultimately the best test of this programme is the continuing participation of its viewers. Following the launch of the programme the audience for the Hallmark Channel Quiz has stabilised and has remained stable to date and over that time we have only received a handful of complaints. In summary, we do not believe that further regulation of Call TV is necessary, given that stringent rules already exist, and we do not consider it either practical or necessary to provide viewers with details of the number of other competitors taking part.

17 November 2006






14   Unless they appear to be under 18 years of age, are drunk/abusive, or if there is any other reason (eg compliance with the Ofcom Broadcasting Code) why the caller should not be permitted to go through to the studio-in which case the Big Game telephonist will exclude that entrant. Back


 
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