3. TV Phone-in Scandal
Richard and Judy TV Phone-in scandal
This story revealing how the Richard and Judy TV show was allowing viewers to phone-in on premium rate numbers to a competition with no chance of winning sparked a huge number of further revelations.
We went on to reveal how the same problem was happening on ITV’s I’m A Celebrity Get Me Out Of Here and GMTV.
The story continued to grow and it turned out that TV shows were raking in millions of pounds from phone-in competitions and drawing the winner while unsuspecting viewers continued to dial in on the high cost lines.
Our whistleblowers retained their anonymity.
Read the full story:
Richard And Judy Phone-In Scandal
Channel 4 faces damaging allegations that the Richard And Judy show is systematically cheating viewers out of tens of thousands of pounds in a premium-rate phone quiz scam.
Every day an average of 15,000 viewers pay £1 a time to enter the programme’s popular daily competition, You Say, We Pay.
But emails leaked to this newspaper reveal that the husband and wife team encourage thousands of viewers to do so after the potential winners have already been chosen.
In the week beginning February 5, more than 32,000 people were tricked into believing that they had a chance of competing for a cash prize, according to the documents.
If that figure were to be repeated every week for the duration of the current nine-month series, it would convert to revenue of around £1million for Channel 4 and Cactus TV, the makers of the programme.
On Friday the competition was pulled off air within hours of The Mail on Sunday presenting the TV company with a series of detailed allegations.
Judy Finnigan told viewers it was because of a ‘technical problem with our telephone supplier’ and added that she hoped the competition would be back on Monday.
Now the Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee of MPs has promised to investigate the claims.
One of its members, Labour MP Rosemary McKenna, said: “This is shocking. We published a report on quiz TV channels and found that they were seriously misinforming people – but even they didn’t go as far as asking viewers to call after a winner had been selected.” The phoneline is run by service provider Eckoh, whose staff use a computer to randomly select 24 potential winners from callers who ring within the first five to seven minutes of the show going on air.
By 5.10pm their job is done – yet viewers are not told to stop calling. In fact they are actively encouraged to ring in again at 5.19pm, when the premium-rate number is flashed up on screen for a second time.
Icstis, the premium-rate services regulator, also promised an inquiry and described the claims as ‘very serious’.
It said its code of practice includes a clause ‘dealing with misleading statements’. Ultimately, it could present Cactus and Channel 4 with a refund bill. The scandal comes as a devastating blow to Judy and her husband Richard Madeley, whose huge success and popularity is based around their cosy rapport with viewers.
There is no evidence to suggest that they had any knowledge of the alleged deception and their spokesman insisted that they do not profit from the calls.
The revelations are equally disastrous for Channel 4 which has endured fierce criticism over the past weeks over the Big Brother phone-in debacle in which viewers paid 50p a call to vote housemates out – only to see four of them return.
Cactus is run by Simon Ross, brother of BBC talk show host Jonathan, and his wife Amanda. She produces the show on behalf of Channel 4. The premium-line quiz show format is extremely lucrative for broadcasters. But some of the programmes have attracted criticism from Chancellor Gordon Brown for exploiting the poor.
Financial Mail on Sunday has led the way in highlighting the problem of television quiz shows such as The Mint, which use premium-rate numbers to make millions for broadcasters at the expense of viewers. Last year, media regulator Ofcom launched a full inquiry following an outcry sparked by our reports on the money-spinning programmes.
At the start of the Richard And Judy show, which begins at 5pm, viewers are invited to call a premium-rate number – 09012 93 4400 – at a cost of £1 per call to enter the competition.
They are answered by Richard and Judy’s voices thanking them for calling and asking them to leave their details.
Staff at Eckoh, which provides the premium-rate number for Cactus, then send TV executives the details of 24 potential winners, chosen randomly by a computer.
This is done by email ‘within five to seven minutes’ of the premium number being flashed up on screen. The Mail on Sunday has obtained a copy of an email sent to Cactus which lists the names and numbers of the last six of the 24 potential winners chosen last Wednesday.
It is timed at 5.09. An email acknowledging receipt was sent by Cactus at 5.13. It means that anyone who calls after 5.10pm at the latest has absolutely no chance of winning.
However, there is no cut-off time for calls. Instead, at 5.19pm Cactus broadcasts a second ‘solicit’ which again triggers thousands of calls.
Eventually – at 5.38pm – it is announced that a contestant has been found. The viewer then goes live on the show and competes against Richard and Judy in a simple charades-style game for which there is a cash prize of a few thousand pounds.
The new series of the show went on air on January 29. On that evening, after the first solicit, there were 4,316 calls at 5.03pm, 6,001 calls at 5.04 and 2,132 calls at 5.05. It was from these that the eventual winner was picked.
After the second solicit went out at 5.19, it prompted 1,356 calls at 5.22, 5,403 at 5.23 and 1,327 at 5.24. None of these viewers had a chance of winning.
The daily call revenues are huge: The income generated was £20,535 – but it averages out at £11,000 to £13,000 a day.
Average daily winners get £6,000 to £7,000 and Eckoh pays the victors out of the call earnings on behalf of Cactus.
In January, when the show was on the air only on three days – on the 29th, 30th and 31st – the revenue was £53,217.52.
Since the show came back on air on January 29, the call revenue has been £146,513.53. The total prize costs have been £67,000, leaving total revenue to the show of £79,513.53.
Eckoh, Cactus and Channel 4 all appeared to blame each other for misleading the public. In a statement Eckoh, based in Hemel Hempstead, said: “Eckoh provide telephone services to a number of leading television broadcasters and we have to ensure that these services operate in accordance with all regulations and codes of conduct.
“So when it came to the attention of our staff that in their view the “You Say, We Pay” service on the Richard And Judy show was not operating in a fully compliant way, we raised this with Cactus.
“We also proposed changes to the way the competition operates, in writing to Cactus to ensure that it was in our view able to run in a compliant manner.”
An email from Eckoh to Cactus TV states: “As discussed, just wanted to clarify legal compliance for competitors.
“Currently 24 winners are provided as soon as the first competition solicit goes out (within five to seven minutes). I understand you need winners ASAP as you have to call and vet them and time restrictions are tight.
“I am concerned that callers entering the competition in subsequent solicits are omitted from the winner-picking.
“Perhaps we could work out a system whereby winners are picked from each solicit?
“I understand this will have a knock-on effect in your winner- vetting process.” In the normal way, premium-rate services regulator Icstis holds the ‘service provider’, in this case Eckoh, responsible for any breaches of its code of practice.
But in some circumstances it can penalise the ‘information provider’ – in this case Channel 4.
“In any case any fines – they can go up to £250,000 – are usually passed on by the service provider to the information provider because that’s the way their contracts usually work,’ said an Icstis spokesman.
Channel 4 said it took the claims seriously and would investigate them fully. “Channel 4 engages a specialist service provider to operate the phone lines, administer the competition and put forward the names of potential winners to the production company, Cactus TV, during the show,’ said a spokeswoman.
“Our contract with the service provider clearly states they must comply fully with the codes that govern competitions of this nature drawn up by Icstis.
“Cactus have also told us that they are fully aware and take very seriously the need for compliance with these codes.
“The costs to Channel 4 of running the competition are fixed so it makes no material difference to the channel whether the eventual winner is selected the moment the phone lines open or just before they close.
“Channel 4 is committed to ensuring all our on-air competitions are conducted fairly and transparently and we would never knowingly mislead viewers in any way.”
Channel 4 is currently the subject of a funding review by media regulator Ofcom. The station’s board is chaired by restaurateur Luke Johnson, Labour peer Lord Puttnam, web entrepreneur Martha Lane Fox and ex-BBC news chief Tony Hall.
Producer Amanda Ross confirmed that the competition had been pulled from screens on Friday following inquiries by The Mail on Sunday.
She said: “It’s their (Eckoh) responsibility to give us the information and abide by the rules. It’s their responsibility to do that and if they haven’t…they haven’t done that. We found out today (Friday) that they haven’t done that and we pulled the competition
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