Ofcom to review participation TV

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Media regulator Ofcom has confirmed it will review how participation TV—including quiz channels, adult chat, psychic reading and dating services—should best be regulated early in the New Year. Ofcom's announcement of a review comes as the premium rate watchdog ICSTIS conducts its own investigation into the growing number of TV quiz channels, and MPs on the Commons culture committee also consider whether adequate rules are in place to protect consumers.

Ofcom said its review had been prompted by "growing public concern" about participation TV. "Viewers are often repeatedly encouraged to spend money to interact with the television service; however, they may not always fully understand the charges involved or indeed what they are getting in return," said Ofcom. "Of the participation TV genres, TV quiz services tend to generate the most concerns from viewers."

Ofcom currently treats TV quiz channels as editorial services. Its broadcasting code—which seeks to uphold standards in programmes—only applies to editorial channels and not advertising or tele-shopping channels, which come under the Broadcast Committee of Advertising Practice's code, administered by the Advertising Standards Authority, though Ofcom has final 'back-stop' powers on all TV advertising. The BCAP code focuses on consumer protection. Ofcom said it could be argued "that it is in the interests of viewers that, where content contains repeated selling messages and commercial transactions are significantly involved, such content should be regulated as advertising, not editorial".

Ofcom said an anomaly existed in the current treatment of live adult chat, psychic and occult services, which the BCAP code prohibits in unencrypted channels, but which Ofcom's broadcasting code allows as editorial services. "These services contain repeated invitations to viewers to call a premium rate line. It could therefore be argued that they are essentially commercial in nature and, in effect, a form of advertising. There is therefore also an argument that one of the consequences of broadcasting under the auspices of an editorial service is that these services are circumventing the advertising prohibitions," said Ofcom.

Ofcom is inviting responses to an issues paper on how participation TV should be regulated by January 31, 2007.

Lovelace Consulting  |  15.12.2006

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