UK TV Viewers Allowed To Vote In Shows Via Mobile App

Pretty soon, British TV talent contests like The X Factor could be taking viewer votes by mobile applications.

Right now, UK broadcasters can only charge viewers to interact with shows “by means of premium rate telephone services or other telephony services based on revenue-sharing arrangements”, according the country’s Broadcasting Code (10.9)

But media regulator Ofcom, after consideration, says mobile apps can also be considered “telephony services”. Votes placed in this way will need to be verified just as phone votes are now.

The current The X Factor season has an app on only one platform, Ovi, thanks to a £1 million sponsorship from Nokia (NYSE: NOK), and is limited to content, not paid interaction.

So there now appears a big opportunity for rightsholder FremantleMedia to release an, iPhone app, for example, which uses iTunes billing to register viewer votes, benefiting both Fremantle and Apple.

But hold on. Ofcom says: “We envisage that such apps will be linked to telephony platforms, i.e. they will not be self-standing mechanisms such as websites, independently existing payment methods and the like.” That seems to place the onus on carrier billing, though Ofcom says it could reconsider that stipulation in future.

But the proprietary nature of different app platforms may still mean broadcasters falling foul of section 10.4 of the Code, Ofcom suggests: “This gives rise to additional questions of undue prominence where programming references to participation or interaction through a particular app gives exposure to a specific platform operator or device manufacturer, or both.

“Undue prominence will be a particular concern where a premium-rated app tied to only one platform is the sole means for viewers to participate. One way of managing this risk is to ensure that such an app is one of a range of possible other entry routes, such as conventional voice and text mechanisms.”

Ofcom says it has jurisdiction also over apps that include not paid interaction but programme-related games and behind-the-scenes footage, meaning it is responsible for ruling any breaches from The X Factor‘s existing Nokia app.