The recent premium rate TV scams just won't go away (Richard and Judy, Channel 5, and even Blue Peter et al). TV production companies (for they are not blameless) as well as mobile services companies have had their knuckles well and truly rapped by ICSTIS and having their names trailed through the press. But it seems the media hasn't had enough, and they may well be right.
Tonight, at 8.30pm, on the BBC, there's going to be a Panorama programme which alleges that 1000s of GMTV viewers (GMTV is a very popular morning chatshow for all you non-UK readers out there) have been ripped off to the tune of £45k per day (that's allegedly £10m a year) by entering competitions they had no hope of winning. What's even worse, is that they allege that the telecoms firm behind it, Opera, knew all about it for the last FOUR years. The BBC news report summarises it here where there's also a link to a video clip about it. And Brand Republic and The Guardian cover it too.
To say it's not looking good for GMTV or Opera is an understatement whether or not they are guilty - it's trial by media and who knows what the *real* truth is but there will be a general feeling of there's no smoke without fire so I'll be watching with great interest. And the word on the street is that Channel 4 is planning it's own Despatches programme on the same issue. So it's not terribly good for the premium rate industry as a whole. So I suspect there'll be a lot of discussion at World Telemedia this week in Amsterdam about how it affects us all in the industry - both client and supplier-side.
There's already some good debate on the issue over at SMStextnews (although I don't agree with some of it - but read for yourself and contribute and make up your own mind).
I suppose the good news is that the public now understand their chances of actually winning anything in these competitions (the odds are slim), the roles ICSTIS and OFCOM play in regulating this area (OFCOM is already providing more specific guidance on 'impossible' quiz questions like the infamous 'What's in a ladies handbag? Ans: A rawl plug.') and forcing the premium rate telecoms suppliers to clean up their act and put proper audit processes and systems in place. And long overdue that is.
This one ain't over yet.
Update: Opera has a statement on its website about the situation...
"Earlier this year Opera Interactive Technology took positive steps to improve its administration procedures and can confirm that all competition contestant entries throughout the entire competition period are now considered equally and fairly, whether handled directly by Opera Interactive Technology or by its telecommunications partners, using a randomised computer programme.Update 2: GMTV dumps Opera Opera declines to comment. And these are the same people who won an award for 'best management team' from the folks who compile the annual Media Momentum list. Hmm.
This process implemented as at 1st March 2007 has been observed and reviewed by Deloitte’s and has been successfully passed as satisfactory and in full compliance with the latest ICSTIS guidelines.
Opera has in no way benefited financially from any errors in procedure in the past and will continue to keep its processes in line with any future OFCOM or ICSTIS guidelines.
Opera Interactive Technology has today removed relevant staff from normal duties with regard to GMTV competitions pending further investigation."