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BSkyB nixes phone quizzes

Scandalous phone games cloud U.K. TV

LONDON — BSkyB, Europe’s leading pay box, decided against launching premium-rate phone quizzes on its channels because they “felt grubby,” according to company topper James Murdoch.

Speaking for the first time about the scandal surrounding rigged phone quizzes that has hit all Blighty’s terrestrial broadcasters, Murdoch said: “We took the view that they were taking advantage of people and that our customers deserved better than that.

“A customer is not a pile of money to go and scrape off as much as you can.”

The BBC and Five have already been slapped with hefty fines for keeping phone-in quizzes open after they had been won, while Paul Corley, managing director of breakfast channel GMTV, co-owned by Disney, resigned after it emerged that auds playing phone-in quizzes were defrauded of around $90 million over four years.

However, BSkyB, arguably the most commercially minded of all British TV companies, avoided the temptation of quick profits held out by the phone-ins.

“We knew we could make a lot of money out of it, but these kinds of programs are very easy to abuse,” Murdoch said. “They just seem unfair.

“We have a betting business and a lot of work goes into informing people about how those services work and putting the appropriate protections in place.

“But to us premium rate quiz stuff always felt grubby, trying to get an extra nickel out of everyone. We didn’t feel comfortable with it.”

Interviewed by Television, the monthly journal of Blighty’s Royal Television Society, Murdoch said events had borne out his decision.

He added: “It speaks to the way we approach our whole business. We really try to think through what sort of value we provide for customers as oppose to how we increase the revenue we get from them.

“A customer is someone who has choice and free will, and ultimately can be a very loyal partner…

“Premium rate quiz shows undermine that relationship because basically it is just taking advantage, and it’s pretty sleazy.”

The furor over rigged phone quizzes has led to a crisis of trust in British TV and is expected to lead to further fines and more resignations in the weeks ahead.