Monday, October 25
Ofcom has cleared a competition on Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? that "materially misled" viewers, after praising the "extremely swift action" taken by ITV to resolve the matter.
In an edition of the gameshow broadcast on August 3, viewers were invited to enter a competition to win £1,000 by answering a question either via a premium rate phone line or text message.
Ofcom received a total of three complaints about the competition. One viewer claimed to have rung the telephone entry line only to hear a different question to that featured on the programme.
The other two complainants said that they had entered the competition before the closure announcement, but were told that their entries had been rejected.
In response, ITV said that both the problems occurred due to "human error" in the scheduling process.
The show's producers had asked to broadcast episode 16 on August 3, rather than the originally intended episode 14. However, the alternation was not made by ITV's scheduling department, meaning the original episode was shown.
When the producers came to set up the competition's telephone entry system, they included the question originally set for episode 16, and so anyone calling the phone line heard a different question to the one broadcast on TV.
ITV said that the error was "spotted immediately" by its interactive team, who were monitoring the show live, and the competition was cancelled. However, the broadcaster was unable to prevent any on-air invitations to enter the competition as the programme was pre-recorded.
ITV said that the total number of entries for the competition was 12,031 - 2,698 submitted by telephone and 9,063 by text message.
The broadcaster aired an apology for the mistake on August 4 and directed viewers to its website for full details of how to claim a refund.
It said that anyone who entered on a BT telephone would receive an automatic refund as long as they did not withhold their number. A call centre has also been set up for non-BT telephone entrants to apply for a refund. Any monies not claimed before November 1 would be donated to charity, ITV said.
Alongside the refund activity, ITV has also reviewed its scheduling processes to ensure that the error does not occur in the future.
In its ruling, Ofcom said that there have been "numerous breaches" of its rules on audience competition in recent years, including a massive £5.68m fine imposed on ITV in 2008 for a string of premium rate phone scandals.
The media regulator said that ITV had "materially misled" viewers with the error on Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?, particularly by posing a different question to the 2,698 telephone entrants.
However, Ofcom decided that the "extremely swift action" taken by ITV was sufficient to deal with the error and ensure that it is not repeated in the future.
"There was a risk that the 2,698 telephone entrants might have either inadvertently answered the wrong question, or terminated their call due to the confusion, but still incurred a charge. Ofcom was therefore concerned that the problem was not detected before the programme went to air," said the watchdog.
"However, Ofcom noted the extremely swift action taken by the broadcaster to cancel the competition and set up a comprehensive refund process and the measures it has now put in place to ensure that the error is not repeated. In view of the remedial action taken by ITV in this instance, Ofcom considers the matter resolved."
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