• Channel 5 suspends all programming involving premium rate telephone services
  • Premium rate watchdog ICSTIS is investigating a number of popular phone-in TV Shows including ITV’s The X-Factor after a series of blunders
  • Late night ‘Quiz TV’ could be classified as gambling, as the element of chance is questioned
  • Government report is quizzing the quizzers on gaming methods

In light of Channel 5’s suspension of all its programming involving premium rate telephone services, is it time to hang up on Call Quiz TV?

Many of us have been tempted to enter TV quizzes via a premium rate telephone number, knowing that we have a small chance of being selected to answer a question that could win us thousands of pounds. However, recent negative publicity surrounding premium rate ‘competitions’ has put a damper on the quiz business.

The recent high-profile incidents involving Channel 4's Richard and Judy show, the BBC's Saturday Kitchen programme and ITV's X Factor show has led ICSTIS, the premium rate services regulator, to hold an urgent meeting with leading broadcasters and premium rate service providers to agree what steps can be taken to restore customer trust in the sector.

Recent damaging allegations led ITV to suspend all of its phone-in polls and competitions while an independent security audit is carried out of its premium rate interactive services. As a result of the meeting, ICSTIS agreed a number of actions with industry including a review by all broadcasters of current and forthcoming participation TV programmes; more rigorous monitoring by ICSTIS; clearer rules of entry; a licensing regime for all premium rate service providers operating participation TV services; broadcasters demonstrating compliance with ICSTIS codes of practice; looking at introducing a trust mark or quality standard for services, as well as ICSTIS engaging in ongoing dialogue with the industry to ensure compliance.

Aside from established television shows which, as recently highlighted, may be running questionable competitions, hours and hours of broadcasting time is increasingly being handed over to Quiz TV, the late night competitions on commercial channels.

Games of chance, such as cards, or roulette, are regulated. Games of skill are less strictly regulated – which leaves one key question – is Quiz TV a game of chance, or skill?

Kenneth Mullen, a city based specialist in media and technology law at leading UK law firm Shepherd and Wedderburn, thinks that broadcaster’s days of free reign in the Quiz TV show sector are numbered.

The concept has, and continues to be dogged by controversy. Tales abound of operators who fail to warn viewers that they will be charged even if they do not make it through to the game, or who run quizzes with deliberately ambiguous questions to keep people ringing back. But these problems have done little to hold back the growth of Quiz TV shows, and the companies behind the channels are sitting on a goldmine.

In response to a large and growing number of complaints regarding Quiz TV shows, the House of Commons Culture, Media and Sport Committee published a report on the sector in January 2007. It criticises such shows for their "lack of fairness and transparency" and argues that Quiz TV shows should be subject to gambling laws.

Kenneth Mullen comments: “It is an industry in which Britain can justifiably claim to be a world-beater. There is a greater concentration of this type of programming being produced in Britain than in any other leading television market. Ofcom is currently considering whether to classify Quiz TV shows as advertising, which would result in a restriction in airtime, or classifying it as ‘lotteries’ under the 2005 Gambling Act.“ Significantly, the Commission states in its Paper that all such channels will either have to stop operating completely or operate under the provisions relating to lotteries (including the requirements to obtain a licence from the Commission and that at least 20% of the proceeds must be contributed to a good cause) or ensure that they operate so that they fall within the provisions relating to prize competitions or free draws. “The House of Commons Culture, Media and Sport Committee should be aiming to inform viewers of the long odds they are up against,” says Kenneth.