Sunday, 14 October 2007

Is it "Good Luck Getting Through"?

In March, after a little less than a year (the service rather tellingly having launched on April Fools' Day), ITV shut down the ITV Play channel, principally because they'd been forced by a sudden and unusual upsurge in national levels of common sense to close all their premium-rate phone lines. This included the ITV Play that comes on at night when ITV have nothing else to show (and, presumably, didn't think anyone up that late would be able to pay enough attention to enjoy a repeat of A Touch Of Frost).

The ‘participation TV’ genre is growing fast and ITV Play will lead the market with higher quality programmes, higher production values and higher and more regular prizes.

So I was rather surprised last night when I switched over after Screenwipe to find a ridiculously cheerful woman soliciting calls from people who knew phrases that start in "good". It looked, as far as I could tell, to be exactly the same as the old-style ITV Play that was so universally condemned, but with one subtle change: every so often, the presenter would remind viewers to set themselves a limit on how many times they were going to play today, and to play within their budgets. She never said you had to be over 18, though.

I didn't watch enough to say for sure if the questions have improved -- though to be honest you could make them as easy as you like and the morons who phoned in and guessed "good likeness" and "good -ie two shoes" still would have been £1.50 of pure profit. Possibly, ITV have put in easy questions so the regulators won't complain and then preyed on viewers who think they've got wise to ITV's game and have started avoiding the obvious answers and guessing "balaclava" to every question instead.

I'm amazed they still get away with this, not least because it has pre-recorded applause and cheers played over it apparently at random, which surely counts as Nasty TV Fakery? Well, apparently, they don't. The show seemed to be taking callers rather less frequently than one might hope -- the presenter managed to go into quite some detail about exactly what she might buy if she won £1,500 on ITV Play that evening. The ideas kept coming -- considering she must have just been ad-libbing for an unspecified time, probably all night, and it was gone 2AM I was actually impressed with her. Except her credibility, obviously, which was in tatters because she was on ITV Play. I usually assume with these things that they charge all the callers and let maybe one in a hundred of them onto the air to have a shot at winning (which they won't, because "good rawlplugs" isn't what you'd call a common phrase), which of course is exactly what they did. But then they "went turbo", which meant they take "more calls than usual". Still nobody got through.

So either they're still running a phone-in competition that's essentially rigged, or else nobody very much phoned in. Which is it? Well, here's ITV's Strategy Update on the subject, published about month ago:

ITV Play’s Call TV programming will be phased out by the end of this year as negative publicity following compliance problems across the sector has seen call volumes drop to uneconomic levels.

So, to sum up, they're running an unpopular feature that's not making them any money. So why are they doing it? Why phase it out? Why not just stop?

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