CIII-TV (Global Ontario) re Play TV Canada

ontario regional Panel
H. Hassan (Vice-Chair), R. Cohen (ad hoc), J. David, J. Doobay (ad hoc), M. Hamilton, G. Phelan (ad hoc)

THE FACTS

Play TV Canada was a contest program in which viewers were invited to telephone the numbers provided in order to win cash prizes by solving quizzes, puzzles and problems.  In order to participate, viewers had to either telephone the program, for which a fee was charged (for each connected call), or enter on-line, at no cost.  According to information stated by the host, calls were selected at random to go live to the studio to solve the puzzles.  Information about the cost and other contest rules appeared in a red box at the bottom of the screen throughout each episode:

FROM LAND LINE CALL

1-900-528-5858

$1.99/CALL + TAX

FROM CELL PHONE DIAL

#5656

ROGERS, FIDO, BELL, SOLO ONLY $2/CALL

Entrants must be over 18 and legal residents of Canada.

www.calltv.com/playtvcanada

The following textual information also scrolled across the red box:

Call in to have your chance to solve the quiz or puzzle for cash prizes.  Callers will be picked at random for the chance to go on the air.  A maximum of 25 entries are allowed in each show from any phone.  A maximum of 100 entries are allowed in each month from any phone.  Customer service 1-877-241-1612 or email playtvcanada@calltv.com.  No purchase necessary.  Entrants must be over 18 and legal residents of Canada.  Entry prohibited from Quebec.  There are three ways to enter.  Call 1-900-526-5858 from your land line phone.  All land line calls cost $1.99 + tax.  Dial #5656 from your mobile phone.  All mobile calls cost $2 + tax.  Telephone charges will appear on your next phone bill or will be deducted from your mobile pre-paid credit.  Enter for free or see our full terms and conditions at www.calltv.com/playtvcanada.

A puzzle or problem would appear on screen and the question related to the puzzle also appeared in words on screen.  The type of puzzle varied; there were word-, number- and image-based games.  An on-air host would also state the question orally, periodically recite the contest rules, and encourage viewers to phone in to win.  In each of the three episodes reviewed for this decision, the host was a young man named James.  The prize money would begin at a certain amount and then incrementally increase as the episode progressed.  A variety of music and sound effects were used to heighten the excitement or suspense.

The program aired on various Global Television stations across Canada from July 2009 to March 2010 very late, post-midnight, on Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights.  The CBSC received a total of 42 complaints about Play TV Canada, originating in different parts of the country.  Eleven of those complaints did not provide sufficient information for the CBSC to be able to pursue them and one raised issues that fell outside the CBSC’s jurisdiction.  Of the remaining thirty complaints, only three complainants filed Ruling Requests asking for a CBSC adjudication and all three of those related to Global Ontario (CIII-TV).  Global Ontario broadcast an 18+ icon at the beginning of each episode as well as the following viewer advisory in both audio and video format:

The following program requires participants to be 18 years or older.  Viewer discretion is advised.

Each of the three complainants identified a particular contest on a particular episode that concerned him.  The first complainant mentioned a mathematical problem presented on the September 29, 2009 episode, which aired from 1:00 am to 2:00 am, (the full text of this and all other correspondence can be found in Appendix B to this decision).  He wrote that “All callers were informed that they had incorrect answers.  The show would not reveal the correct answer until the end of the show.  The answer presented was 1238 without any explanation.  This type of show generates considerable revenue and should be conducted in a fair manner.  […]  I believe that shows of this type generate large revenues while depriving the viewer-participant of a legitimate chance to win.”  That complainant also noted that the CBSC had ruled against a similar program broadcast in Quebec under the name Call TV.

The mathematical problem was presented on screen as follows with the question being “What is the total of all the numbers in this puzzle?”:

9+7-3×0+

5-2+4-7+

(4+6)x2=?

James took calls from a total of 49 viewers, informing all of them that their answers were incorrect.  James periodically reminded viewers of the cost per call and made statements, such as the following (more complete descriptions of each episode can be found in Appendix A):

It’s not a trick question.  It’s not number one.  I need you to recount and have another look.

Everything you need is on screen.  Everything is there.  I have one correct solution to this game.  One possible answer.

He also highlighted the potential winnings with comments such as “We’ve got five thousand dollars that is now guaranteed.  Guaranteed cash.  Yes, guaranteed.  Yes, you can win five thousand.”  James took calls for this contest question until 1:47 am without a successful caller.  The second game on that episode featured multiple images of a Daffy Duck-like cartoon character.  Callers had to determine which image was different from the others.  Not a single call came through for approximately ten minutes, but one caller was finally successful during the last few moments of the program.  After that call, James revealed the answer to the previous problem, namely, 1238, and then quickly concluded the episode.

The second complainant referred to a different mathematical problem on the December 12 episode, which aired from 2:00 am to 4:00 am.  The problem was as follows:

How many legs are on the bus?

James assured viewers that “Everything you need is on your screen.  Everything you need to give me the correct answer is on your TV screen.”  He also mentioned that “You do only say your answer when you’re live on air.  We have no idea what you’re going to say until you are live on air.  So the next person can always be the winner.”  This time, James took calls from 98 different people, all of whom were told their answers were wrong.  At a point during the game, the previous caller’s answer appeared on screen so viewers would know which numbers had already been guessed incorrectly.  With no correct callers, James eventually opened the envelope containing the answer and revealed that it was 1359.

The complainant’s concern was that this answer was illogical since humans and cats have legs in multiples of two.  He explained that he was not so much concerned with the precise answer as he was with the fact that the answer was an odd, rather than an even, number.

The second game on the December 12 episode was another “which picture is different?” puzzle.  Eighteen minutes and 27 seconds elapsed without any calls coming through.  As the program neared its conclusion, there were alarms and other sound effects and James excitedly encouraged viewers to call in because time was running out.  A caller finally got through with only seconds left in the program and won the money.

The third complainant mentioned the January 10, 2010 episode, which aired from 2:00 am to 4:00 am, but complained more generally about the “obviously totally misleading and fraudulent program”.  He wrote that “Viewers are enticed to call in to solve an obscure puzzle and charged for the call regardless of whether they get through or not.  The ‘quiz’ is probably never solved (in this show the presenter didn’t even understand the answer) plus the clear fact that the answer they gave was not even correct.”

The puzzle in question involved a numerical equation formed out of matchsticks.  The first equation was “9+4=1” and viewers were required to move one matchstick to create an accurate equation.  The first caller through won by moving a matchstick to turn the 9 into a 3 and the 1 into a 7 so the equation read “3+4=7”.

The second matchstick problem simply presented the number 4865.  Viewers were told to move two matchsticks to create the “highest possible” number.  James eventually obtained some matchsticks himself and moved them around in an attempt to solve the puzzle while he accepted numerous incorrect guesses from viewers.  He also bantered with his producer (unseen and unheard by viewers, but speaking to James via his earpiece) about where she had obtained this particular puzzle.  According to James, the producer told him she had seen it on a university post-graduate program entrance exam and that she herself had achieved the correct answer.  The puzzle went on until 3:40 am with no successful callers.  When James opened the envelope, he revealed the answer to be 4862=236196.  The graphic showing the original number also shifted to show that the 5 became a 2 and the 2 was an exponent.  As he held up the envelope, James quickly said, “Okay, guys.  The number that we needed … okay:  Four, eight, six to two.  Okay.  That’s the correct answer on that one.  Right.  Let’s move on.”

The next game was another “which picture is different?” challenge.  Again, it was easily solved by a caller, who did not get through until the last few minutes.  At the conclusion of this episode, James again showed viewers the piece of paper on which the answer to the matchstick problem was written, 4862=236196.  He commented, “This is the solution for the previous game.  Showing you once again.  The previous logic game.  That was the answer we needed:  two, three, six, one, nine, six.  Four, eight, six to the power of two.  That was the previous game”; he then used his own matchsticks to demonstrate to viewers how the puzzle was solved.

Global Ontario sent slightly different letters to each of the complainants (the full text of each of those letters can be found in Appendix B).  Generally, Global pointed out that Play TV Canada’s contests were open only to Canadian (but not Quebec) residents aged 18 years or older and that this information, as well as the information about the cost of calls and the apparently random selection telephone system, was explained during the program.  The station added that “all puzzles have robust audited methodology”, which involved verification by a computer system and the program director, and there was only one possible solution.  The methodology was not revealed on-air or, apparently, even to Global because “to explain how one [puzzle] was calculated [would be] providing the formula for many others; that would not allow all viewers to be on an even playing field.”  But this did “not mean there [was] any trickery or anything hidden in the puzzle.”  Global also noted that the correct answer was placed in a sealed envelope and revealed by the host either after a caller gave the correct answer or the game ended with no correct answers.

As mentioned above, three complainants were dissatisfied with Global Ontario’s replies and requested that the CBSC investigate further.  They argued that Global’s explanations about methodology and auditing did not alleviate their concerns about the fairness and transparency of the contest questions.  One of the complainants also wrote back directly to Global to further detail his issues.  Global responded a second time to that complainant addressing his concerns about the random selection telephone system, the auditing system and the disclosure of the methodology.  The station reiterated that the puzzles went through a “rigorous checking process” including independent verification by “a leading auditing company” but that “[r]evealing methodology would remove the element of skill and prevent any similar game from being played in the future.”

Global also sent the CBSC a document from Play TV Canada producers, Telemedia InteracTV, that outlined their “procedures to ensure openness, fairness and to maximise viewer protections.”  That document indicated that Play TV Canada would repeat the contest rules, including cost per call and free alternate website entry, on air more frequently.  It also noted changes that would be made to the Play TV Canada website for better clarification.  It described the random selection telephone system and it identified the name of the auditing company.  As well, the document provided this explanation about the disclosure of methodology:

One or two viewers have asked for Play TV to reveal the game methodology, and we wish to explain why this is not possible.  Firstly, game methodology is the IP of the show in the same way that the recipe is for Coke.  Also, by revealing the methodology, it would prevent Play TV not only from playing any game twice, but also from playing any similar game, to the detriment of the enjoyment and participation of the audience.  Lastly, and possibly most importantly, having a real and provable element of skill is a fundamental legal requirement in Canada.  By revealing game methodology, you take away any skill element and reduce games entirely to chance, making them illegal.

Despite the efforts by Global and Telemedia InteracTV to alter aspects of the program, Global informed the CBSC that Play TV Canada would no longer be aired after March 26, 2010.

THE DECISION

The Ontario Regional Panel reviewed the complaints under Clause 12 of the Canadian Association of Broadcasters’ (CAB) Code of Ethics, which is entitled “Contests and Promotions” and reads as follows:

All on-air contests and promotions shall be conceived and conducted fairly and legitimately and particular care shall be taken to ensure that they are not misleading, potentially dangerous or likely to give rise to a public inconvenience or disturbance and that any prizes offered or promises made are what they are represented to be.

The Ontario Panel Adjudicators read all of the correspondence and reviewed the three challenged episodes.  The Panel concludes that Global Ontario violated Clause 12 in its broadcasts of Play TV Canada on September 29 and December 12, 2009, but not in the case of that of January 10, 2010.

Puzzle Answers and Methodology

The most consistent concern of the complainants related to the presentation of the unsolved puzzles without any plausible explanation.  The mathematical problem presented on the September 29 episode was such a case.  A total of 49 viewers took their chances on air, all without success.  The answer was simply stated as 1238.  Full stop.  No explanation was provided.  Not only was none of the 49 participants able to guess, but none of the Adjudicators, with the fullest benefit of both time and reflection and no pressure regarding the moving hands of a clock, was able to arrive at that solution.  The point is only that the answer was far from evident.  Nor was the second mathematically-oriented problem (on the December 12 episode) any easier; 98 on-air callers apparently got it wrong, as did the Adjudicators, who were again relieved of any time-related pressure.  And the second complainant’s scepticism about the solution of 1359 legs on the bus was, in the Panel’s view, well-founded.  How, he wondered, could the number of humans’ and cats’ legs be anything other than an even number?

There were, in other words, answers generated by the producer and aired by the broadcaster in both cases.  Answers, but no explanation or rationale.  As the Quebec Panel stated, in dealing with a similar contest program, in TQS re Call TV (CBSC Decision 08/09-1834 & -1856, August 11, 2009),

While this has of course raised doubts in the minds of the Adjudicators as to the legitimacy of the foregoing puzzles, what is more important to them is the inherent absence of transparency for the audiences.  Audiences ought to be able to know or understand the rules of a contest and the transparency of the outcome, particularly when they are being asked to spend money to enter them.  The rule can be the seeking of a particular fact or piece of information, in which case the disclosure of the verifiable fact or information is the transparent element.  The rule can be the guessing of a number, as in Government-run lotteries, in which case the revelation of the numbers falling out of a basket is the transparent element.  The rule can be that a disclosed committee of individuals will judge the dancing, singing or other skill set of an individual or group.  And so on.  Where, contrary to the reasonable and customary examples of the foregoing contests, the inherently dubious outcome is neither evident nor explained, the Panel considers that the absence of transparency renders the conduct of the contest neither fair nor legitimate, as required by Clause 12 of the CAB Code of Ethics.  Nor does the Panel consider that the host’s repeated explanation that “we might come back next week with the same game” constitutes a justification for the failure to be transparent.

In the matter at hand, the Panel encountered a far more transparent result in the case of the two matchstick contests, both of the move-a-matchstick (in one case, two matchsticks) and create an accurate equation or a larger number variety.  In both these cases, one easier and one more difficult, the transformation from matchstick setting one to matchstick setting two was clear.  The viewers were treated to the physical displacing of matchsticks.  They could understand.  The exercise was transparent.  Even though the solution to the more difficult matchstick problem was so unexpected that no-one might have gotten it with a quadrupled allowance of the time, the answer was explained.  It proved that an answer could be provided to the audience, with the effect of legitimizing the transparency of the contest.

The broadcaster’s arguments and explanations about methodology and auditing do not, in the view of the Panel, dispel the absence-of-transparency concern.  As the Quebec Panel said, “Audiences ought to be able to know or understand the rules of a contest and the transparency of the outcome, particularly when they are being asked to spend money to enter them. [Emphasis original.]”  The Panel does not agree with the broadcaster that “to explain how one [puzzle] was calculated [would be] providing the formula for many others; that would not allow all viewers to be on an even playing field.”    If one of the results of providing such explanations would have been that the producer would have had to put its creativity cap on to devise more unrelated contests or better methods of dissembling the appearance of related contests, that would simply have been a cost associated with broadcasting such programming.  The bottom line is that, even if disclosure of methodology did have the effect of facilitating contest-solving, the Panel is of the view that the producer (and, inferentially, the broadcaster) needed to take that step to legitimize the contests as a function of Clause 12.

As mentioned above, Global also submitted a document on the issue of methodology disclosure provided by the Play TV Canada producers.  The producers contended first, the equivalence of game methodology and the recipe for Coke.  Second, they argued, they would be prevented “not only from playing any game twice, but also from playing any similar game.”  Third, they posited that “having a real and provable element of skill is a fundamental legal requirement in Canada.”  The Panel disagrees with each of those arguments.  On the first point, the Panel considers it is fanciful to argue any similarity between Play TV’s game formula or recipe and that for Coca-Cola.  While it is true that the producers would likely be prevented from playing the very same game twice, on the assumption that there are constant viewers of the program, the Panel merely views the need to find slightly modified games as one of the costs of broadcasting such programming.  As to the argument regarding skill level, the Panel finds nothing convincing.  If choosing between Daffy Duck-like images necessitates skill, then no modified game will lose its skilful component because another similar, but not identical, game has previously been broadcast on Play TV.  In any event, the foregoing arguments miss the point of concern for the Panel.  Its issue is the absence of transparency.  And none of the arguments in this paragraph displaces the need for transparency to legitimize the contests.

The broadcaster itself added that the failure to reveal the methodology did “not mean there [was] any trickery or anything hidden in the puzzle.”  The Panel agrees with that statement, but trickery and underhandedness are not the issue.  The issue is, as stated immediately above, transparency.  Its absence means that the Ontario Regional Panel concludes here, as the Quebec Panel did in the Call TV decision, that the foregoing contests were not conducted fairly and legitimately and were consequently in breach of Clause 12 of the CAB Code of Ethics.

Viewer Information

The Panel notes the presence of the viewer advisory and classification icon at the beginning of each episode.  Neither was required by any of the CBSC-administered Codes.  Nonetheless, the Panel much appreciates the intention of the broadcaster in providing potentially helpful viewer information without any codified requirement to do so.  It is a reflection of Global’s desire to ensure that the viewer has whatever information the broadcaster can provide, particularly in circumstances where the viewer is paying something to participate in the program he or she is watching.  The Panel also notes the constant supply of additional information scrolling across the screen relating to participation in the on-air contests.

Broadcaster Responsiveness

In all CBSC decisions, the Council’s Panels assess the broadcaster’s responsiveness to the complainant.  In the present instance, the Panel finds that the broadcaster extended considerable efforts to be responsive.  In the first place, they ensured that the letters to each of the complainants were expressly tailored to respond to the particular focus of the letter of complaint. Second, though, the Panel recognizes the major effort that the broadcaster made to ensure that the Global incarnation of the Play TV program and structure took into account the problems raised in the decision of the Quebec Regional Panel in TQS re Call TV (CBSC Decision 08/09-1834 & -1856, August 11, 2009).  Global then followed up with a document that specifically explained what it had done to ensure that the producers’ new version of the program respected the problems of the Call TV broadcast.  That the program did not succeed in all respects resulted in the finding regarding the non-transparency of the explanation of the contest methodology.  On the issue of broadcaster responsiveness, though, the Panel acknowledges Global’s efforts.  Global has amply fulfilled the CBSC membership obligation of responsiveness on this occasion.

ANNOUNCEMENT OF THE DECISION

CIII-TV (Global Ontario) is required to:  1) announce the decision, in the following terms, once during prime time within three days following the release of this decision and once more within seven days following the release of this decision during the time period in which Play TV Canada was broadcast, but not on the same day as the first mandated announcement; 2) within the fourteen days following the broadcasts of the announcements, to provide written confirmation of the airing of the statement to the complainants who filed the Ruling Requests; and 3) at that time, to provide the CBSC with a copy of that written confirmation and with air check copies of the broadcasts of the two announcements which must be made by Global Ontario.

The Canadian Broadcast Standards Council has found that Global Ontario violated the Contests provision of the Canadian Association of Broadcasters’ Code of Ethics in its broadcasts of Play TV Canada on September 29 and December 12, 2009.  Clause 12 of the Code requires that contests be conducted fairly and legitimately and must not be misleading.  The CBSC found that some of the mathematical contests on Play TV Canada provided dubious or incomprehensible results.  The CBSC considers that Global Ontario failed to provide transparency in the revelation of the methodology of the contest outcomes to the audience.  This rendered the conduct of the contests in question neither fair nor legitimate, and thus in breach of Clause 12 of the Code of Ethics.

This decision is a public document upon its release by the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council.