ITV admits excluding postal entries

So perhaps it wasn’t major news for most people, but those of us in the prize promotions industry sat up and took notice when ITV recently informed broadcast watchdog Ofcom that it had realised there had been irregularities in some of its on-air competitions. The discovery came when ITV conducted an internal audit, which led to the identification of six competitions it had run in the period 2014 to 2019 in which postal entries had not been included in the pool from which winners were drawn.

They’re described as on-air competitions and they appear on TV programmes like This Morning and The X-Factor, but they’re essentially prize draws. If you enter these competitions by text, phone or online you usually pay a premium – it tends to be £2 on these shows. That’s because the competitions are designed to generate revenue.

However, under the Gambling Act 2005 if you charge an inflated rate of entry for a prize draw, you must offer a free entry route, so people must also be able to submit their entries by post (or email). The method of entry – and whether you’ve paid the premium or not – should not affect your chances of winning. It’s also worth pointing out, that under the CAP Code, this free-entry route must be explained clearly and prominently.

Letter of the law

ITV stated that the omission of these postal entries from the draws was an administrative error and entirely accidental. It also noted that the six competitions amounted to one third of one per cent of the competitions it had run since 2014, so those excluded entries represented a very small proportion of the total entries. In fact, newspaper reports have suggested that ITV conducted computer simulations for all six competitions and concluded that none of the overlooked postal entrants was denied a prize.

Of course, ITV has form in this area. Back in 2008 it was fined £5.7 million by Ofcom for abuse of premium rate phone lines on shows like Ant and Dec’s Saturday Night Takeaway. The fine was a record at the time. In the less distant past, it was also investigated over the terms and conditions of the Sofa Watch segment in the same show. We’ll have to see what Ofcom says about ITV’s recent confession, but the regulator does have the capacity to impose substantial financial penalties – in 2017 it fined BT a whopping £42 million for delays in installing high-speed lines!

Lessons to be learned

However, I doubt the punishment will be on that scale. Ofcom’s penalty guidelines state, ‘The level of the penalty must be sufficiently high to have the appropriate impact on the regulated body at an organisational level. It should incentivise the management (which is ultimately responsible for the conduct and culture of the regulated body) to change the conduct of the regulated body as a whole and bring it into compliance.’

Given that ITV reported itself to Ofcom, I think you could argue that the company’s management has been incentivised and is keen to be compliant, plus in the grand scheme of things it’s a relatively small – although obviously still significant – issue. Mind you, it’s a useful reminder that you do need to get every feature of a prize draw or prize promotion right.

Fortunately, Prizeology excels at attention to detail and best practice, so if you’re looking for a prize promotions agency, look no further. You can call us on 020 7856 0402 or drop us line on hello@prizeology.com.

Sophie Robertson is Prizeology’s Senior Project manager.

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