The UK’s media regulator will consider the reliability of social networks as premium-rate TV interaction mechanisms, after Britain’s first ever use of Facebook Credits to engage with a TV show left some viewers out of pocket.
Seven viewers of November’s live final of Channel 5’s Big Brother complained to Ofcom that they could not vote in the show, despite having bought Facebook Credits priced 6.5 pence each, because the show’s Facebook voting app crashed under demand. Customers had to buy at least 10 vote credits but some were unable to use votes they paid for.
Channel 5’s vendor Mobile Interactive Group (MIG) enabled the Facebook Credits technology for its broadcast clients in April 2011; iPlatform built the voting app.
Channel 5 told Ofcom it “carefully planned the use of the Facebook application and server capability based on reasonable estimates of expected voting patterns using a new voting service”. But its Facebook app was “temporarily overloaded due to exceptionally high traffic levels across the entire Big Brother application (i.e. not just traffic from those wishing to vote)” so “the server was unable to cope with the surge in traffic”.
Ofcom has not levelled available sanctions against Channel 5 but warned the broadcaster it must comply with its Broadcasting Code.
Historically, Ofcom has only allowed paid interaction with TV shows via phone and SMS. But a trial is in effect by which engagement is allowed by means like mobile apps social networks.
The trial began in August 2011 and ends this coming August 2012. Ofcom is now likely to consider this pioneering case when it reviews whether the other methods should be allowed permanently. Channel 5 said it had increased server capacity “sevenfold” for the next roll-out.