Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport Written Evidence

Supplementary Memorandum submitted by Bob Winsor

  Thank you for raising the key issues about an unregulated industry. I thought it would be helpful to add a few points on issues that were raised by the Committee but not fully answered by the witnesses.

  Perhaps most important is the issue of whether viewers should be made aware of the odds of getting through to the presenter. When pushed by the Committee, ITV replied to Mr Evans that it would be very difficult to let viewers know information on odds because different games were more popular at different times of the day. Also, to support this point it was said that too much information on the screen may confuse viewers. In their gloss (QTV 21) ITV have written "... It is impossible for ITV to provide any accurate information to viewers about the chances of getting through at any one moment... It is important to realise that there is no regular pattern at any particular time of day. From minute to minute it would be extremely complex to assess the chances of being selected and to provide any accurate real-time information of this nature. This would be in danger of misleading the viewers rather than helping them [?]". What ITV failed to mention is the studio software called BT Architect. This software sits next to the producer in the gallery and with a delay only a few minutes relays how many viewers are calling per minute at that specific time of day. This makes ITV's argument nonsense. Producers are always aware of just how popular a game is by glancing at the bar graphic on the BT Architect. Similarly, this information could be easily added to the terms and conditions info that runs across the bottom of the screen in small print. Channels scroll across the bottom of the screen "You must be 18 or over and have the bill payers" permission. Calls cost 75p whether selected or not". After this info channels should be ordered to add "... Number of people calling at the moment = 1,200 per minute! (for example). Finally on this point, channels should be made to show this information in bold contrasting colours—not white print on a pastel blue background which is difficult to read.

  Secondly, and speaking from experience, these companies should not be trusted to self-regulate. A couple of nights before the inquiry I watched a "game" being played on Cash Call which is broadcast by Optimistic Media who gave evidence to the committee. The game asked viewers to work out the answer to the following question: 11 Candles on the Birthday Cake. You blow four out. How many remain? This game was on screen for an hour and the presenter challenged people to "Get through to me within the next minute!" During the entire hour only five calls were put through on air. However, that isn't the main issue. After reading out the puzzle constantly for 45 minutes the presenter then verbally added an essential part of the question "11 candles on a cake" etc "... and then you leave the room for a few hours and come back! So, how many candles are left?" Callers had clearly been duped. During the first 45 minutes three callers were put through (only three!) two of them gave 11 as their answer and one gave the answer seven. Either of these answers would surely be correct until the presenter decided to verbally add the essential part about leaving the room and returning to count the candles at a later time after they had burnt down. As I have said, this information was not given until the game had already been played for 45 minutes. This channel is broadcast by a company who attended the oral evidence session and claimed in their glossy bumf (QTV20) to:

    "... pride itself on its record of good practice based on current regulation ..." and believes "... its code of conduct provides a model for the rest of the industry ... procedures for handling calls from viewers are transparent, fair and responsible ... Optimistic ... believe it unfair to leave a puzzle on the screen for a long period of time without taking a call. Optimistic Media take a caller through to the studio on average more often then once every two minutes at any given time during the show".

  I have reported the above to Ofcom, but this is just one example that I tuned into at random—I do not purposefully roam the channels looking for rip-off games. Similarly the ITV game Things in a Lady's Handbag, mentioned by the committee was found by chance. An unrelated point but still concerning the need for regulation is the fact that whilst I worked at BGTV the phone system would often breakdown, sometimes for up to an hour. ITN technical support would be called in to repair the fault whilst viewers were still encouraged to call in whilst I had no way of answering the calls. It is difficult to believe that other channels do not suffer from telephone problems. These channels really should be independently regulated. The public do need protection. I understand that ITV are in financial difficulties and that it is necessary for them to find new ways to raise revenue but does their financial necessity justify the practices raised at the oral evidence session? Is necessity justification in this context?

  Throughout the session there seemed to be a lot of comparisons to horse racing from the committee and so I shall add one more comparison. People have often said to me that nobody forces these people to pick up the phone and call in. This is true but then again nobody forces me to walk into the bookies to put money on a horse but if the race is fixed then there is a huge public outcry and a full investigation. The purpose of the oral evidence session was to shed some light on whether the games were fixed and I feel that the committee generally thought that independent regulatory action was definitely needed. Perhaps the most important point is this; If a horse race is fixed one can immediately identify the people who have been swindled—in the bookies or at the track. With quiz TV it is virtually impossible to identify victims sitting in their living rooms throughout the country. I know from experience that a lot of people tend to first make contact with BT and query their bill. BT tell these people that they have probably been charged for every call made to the premium rate number and to check the small print on the TV screen. When viewers do this they see that they have been charged for every call but are unaware that calls may have been blocked when they attempted to take part in a quiz. After leaving BGTV I called a regular player who had been a victim of a call block whilst I was on duty to see if she would show her phone bill to a journalist. Her voice was shaking. I thought she was about to start crying. She really did not want to be seen as a fool who had been a victim of the type of practices raised by the committee. I left her alone but passed her details onto the fraud squad. She is, I believe, a victim of theft. Who will compensate her and the thousands like her?

  Finally on this point, when I complained to ITV about "Things in a Lady's Handbag" I was told that the woman's handbag in question may have belonged to a decorator and therefore the answer was reasonable. When I asked who I could complain to Ofcom and Icstis were not mentioned. It was not until I mentioned the regulators that I was contacted by Peter Cassidy who apologised and offered me a refund of any calls that I had made. My point is this—complainants rarely make it to Ofcom. BT is there first port of call. If they still smell a rat then they contact the TV show. The TV show may falsely explain to the victim why the game in question was reasonable and fair (for example "The handbag in question may have belonged to a female decorator"). Bearing this in mind any pattern of complaints to the regulators or the CAB are a gross underestimation of the true numbers of people who have unknowingly been fleeced. Viewers are totally unaware of the ways in which these quizzes are able to dupe them. Wouldn't you usually trust a company such as ITV? If BT told you to check the small print on the TV screen and ITV informed you that their games were honest would you seriously believe that you still had a valid complaint and would you have the time and money to pursue the matter further?

  There are other points regarding the free entry route loophole, the duty of BT who take 50% of profits and the interests of Ofcom and ICSTIS but I'll save that for another day.

4 December 2006

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