Crackdown follows network's own probe

Channel 4 has become the latest Brit broadcaster to crack down on the use of premium-rate phone-in competitions, after an internal probe revealed a string of problems with the net’s “You Say, We Pay” quiz dating back to September 2004.

Under tough new guidelines, premium-rate phone-in competitions will be dropped from all of the broadcaster’s programs, except for one tied to gameshow “Deal or No Deal.”

Last year, the channel ran around 30 premium-rate phone-ins, and revenue from such competitions is expected to generate some £3 million ($6 million) in profits this year.

Phone voting for “Big Brother” will continue, but viewers will be charged only for the cost of the call plus any charitable donation, while profits from the “Deal or No Deal” phone-in competition will also go to charity.

“As a commercially funded public service broadcaster, we’ve previously taken the view that premium-rate competitions were a legitimate activity given the demand from viewers to take part,” said Anne Bulford, Channel 4’s group finance director. “But public trust in these competitions has been severely undermined, and we do not want to risk further our relationship with our viewers.”

The investigation into the “You Say We Pay” competition on the channel’s “Richard & Judy” talkshow found that between September 2004 and February 2007, 2.9 million calls had no chance of winning, representing some 42% of total calls and accounting for some $4.4 million in revenue.

However, it found no evidence that Channel 4 staffers were involved in the improper handling of viewer calls, and the broadcaster has since offered to refund cash to viewers who tried to enter the competition after winners had already been picked.

Eckoh, the company which ran the “You Say, We Pay” quiz, has already been fined $304,676 by premium-rate phone services regulator Icstsis.

Channel 4’s tough stance comes in the wake of similar scams at Blighty’s other broadcasters.

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