Written by TV

TV Gaming

There’s a worthwhile piece in Mediaguardian today about my new latest bugbear – “participation television”, or rather, premium rate TV quizzes.
We all know that Richard & Judy and GMTV have for years run premium rate competitions asking you to answer a trivial question with the promise of many pounds if you win. But things are surely getting out of hand.
With the success of Deal or No Deal, garnering upwards of four million viewers a day, the paltry prize of as little as 1,000 a day for what is essentially a guessing game seems poor value. Quite where the skill comes in with this is unclear to me.
There are several elements that seem to me to need clarifying:
1) the chace that you get through to a given phoneline
The National Lottery has some very tight legislation governing it, and the probabilities of you winning specific levels of prizes are published. Yet most of these phone games involve only a limited number of players “getting through” to the studio.
The reality is, of course, that the proportion of callers taken to air is probably changed according to the level of prize, the time of day, and the call rate that the programme or channel is experiencing. Yet I believe that people need to know what their chances are before entering the competitions.
Again, if I go into a casino, I know in advance what my chances are of winning if I play roulette. Fruit machines also have to pay out a minimum of 70%.
2) after a question has been answered correctly, explain your reasoning
OK, this probably doesn’t need much doing when the question is “name the city” alongside a picture of the Eiffel Tower and the letters P–IS. But there’s a particularly nasty little “quiz” that’s common on these channels that asks you to “Add all the numbers” and then presents you with a phrase that includes words and numbers. Simply speaking, there isn’t one correct answer to these questions. The “solutions” from what I can gather revolve around you summing all the numbers that you can see, plus those you can’t including Roman numerals and hexadecimal numbers.
Any number of callers, of course, simply do the obvious and get it wrong.
Perversely, these “quizzes” are surely the most annoying for viewers since they’re not trivial to solve and frequently last for hours of airtime.
and 3) the legality of these channels
Are these channels running competitions or lotteries?
A competition involves using “skill” to solve a question. If there is no “skill” involved, then you’re actually running a lottery.
The TV channels would no doubt argue that they’re running a “competition” (the aforementioned Deal or No Deal, by contrast, has no skill attached, so must be considered a “lottery”). But currently “skill” has no statutory definition. Hence the trivial answers to some questions. What is clear is that these are effectively pay-to-enter games. Sometimes free entry is available via other mechanisms such as web-entry, but this is limited to those with internet access. And the trivial GMTV-type questions are phone number alone.
Let’s hope that future legislation, currently in the making, sorts out this mess.
Recently ITV spent a couple of months chewing over whether they should close down Men & Motors so they could keep the ITV News Channel alive on a Freeview slot. In the end, they decided that Men & Motors was doing well enough to deserve to survive, and ITV News was chucked off Freeview. The knock-on effect was to close it down completely. So isn’t it “ironic” that just a couple of months on, Men & Motors itself is to be closed down and ITV Play is to launch – a full channel serving this pointless gaming.
This comes not long after Channel 4 launched its own gaming channel Quiz TV – not that you’d necessarily know from watching the channel as they seem strangely coy about their links with their parent company. There certainly aren’t any familiar C4 presenters plying their trade – rightly, as it happens, because nearly every C4 presenter who might present such shows would be a T4 presenter appealing to kids. In any case, can anyone honestly say that they aspire to present this pointless trash?
Essentially this is all gambling. While MPs find themselves struggling to reconcile an increased number of casinos, with the increased gambling addiction that afflicts the nation, our broadcasters are simply coining it with little or no regulation.
Do random checks go on at studios to inspect computer software? Do we know how many people are spending hundreds or thousands of pounds a month on these games? Do channels take responsibility to stop them?
Commercial television has always been a money-making concern, but can this direct charging of viewers be a smart business move in the long-term. If I run up a bill of several hundred pounds which I then can’t pay, am I going to feel all warm and fuzzy about ITV or C4 when my phone gets cut off?
I have no overall aversion to gambling. However, I think that it’s currently too easy to spend a lot of money playing these games, with little or no regulation.
If you want to go into a Bingo hall you have to register.
If you buy a lottery ticket, there’s someone to check you’re over 18 and you can’t buy your tickets with a credit card (you can pay your BT bill this way).
There are various bodies in charge of making sure that horse racing or greyhound racing is fair.
TV gaming goes basically unregulated, and, frankly, does a disservice to the viewer.