Text-To-TV: Worth A Buck?

The TV show American Idol is the example often used when showing the potential popularity of how text messaging can be used with television shows–mobile and interactive TV company Telescope Inc. says it managed 580 million combined phone and cell phone votes for American Idol’s last season!

American Idol has proved that Americans love text-to-vote – though making money off that has been a bit of a thumb-cramper for companies managing the process. The carrier walked away with the bulk of the 10-cent text fee, the Show got the viewers, but those doing the heavy lifting got bupkiss. Or at least not as much as they would want.

So what do these start-ups do – push a new concept in SMS voting called, Premium SMS — a text message that costs more to send but that the viewer gets something (or the illusion of something) in return.

Edward Boddington, CEO Telescope Inc., says “premium SMS is the future of ‘participation TV.’ His company, owned partly by Bertelsmann and Harvest Media Group, is managing SMS voting for shows like American Inventor (Bullet Ball!), Hell’s Kitchen, Rockstar, and American Idol. (He’s the one in the picture shaking hands with the American Idol announcer.)

Premium SMS can cost the viewer between 50 cents to 99 cents and the consumer gets either a bit of digital content in exchange or, say, gets a chance to be entered in a sweepstake. That business looks a lot more attractive to a company like Telescope than a regular low cost text-to-vote campaign for a carrier. The Wall Street Journal (WSJ) has a bit about this growing market in today’s paper.

The major problem with this move is that with a higher fee for texting, inevitably some users will balk at the high cost. I definitely wouldn’t pay a buck to vote on Hell’s Kitchen in exchange for a sweepstake. But then again, I’m not the lottery ticket kind–a lot of people are. Of course there is that nagging little bit – people’s tastes change and this whole reality TV thing might be over. What happens to companies like Telescope then? They also manage mobile marketing and other mobile content, so they’d probably survive.

The WSJ seems to be pretty bullish on the popularity of premium SMS for interactive TV. Naturally so is Telescope. Edward says “if it’s packaged in the right way, consumers will definitely pay that much,” he says.–What do you think? Would you be willing to pay a dollar to text TV?

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