Audience Interactivity (Competitions, Votes and Awards)
Part C: Detailed Guidance on Voting
In this article
- 1. Permissions and Referrals
- 2. Setting Up a Vote
- 3. Which Voting Method Should You Use?
- 4. Votes which Use Telephony
- 5. Online Votes
- 6. Voting from Multiple Platforms
- 7. Fairness to Contenders
- 8. Integrity of the Vote
- 9. Calculating the Result
- 10. Pre-recorded and Repeated Programmes
- 11. Jointly Run Votes with Third Parties
- 12. Publicising BBC Votes
- 13. Votes in Programmes Aimed at or Likely to Involve Children
- 14. If Things Go Wrong
- 15. Documentation and Verification
Public voting is a central factor in many BBC television and radio programmes such as "Strictly Come Dancing", "Sports Personality of the Year" and "Restoration".
It is an extremely popular way for our audiences to interact with BBC content and programmes. We use audience votes in most genres and for a variety of editorial purposes. The majority of BBC votes are small scale, many of them on radio and online, where the audience is encouraged to vote on light subjects such as a favourite pop song or a most loved children's character. Votes can also be used for many other purposes, ranging from raising money for BBC charitable appeals, changing the plot of an interactive drama to deciding the outcome of a competition, talent search, or for a BBC Award.
It is essential that all BBC competitions meet the high editorial, ethical and technically robust standards that our audience rightly expect from us.
All BBC Votes must comply with the BBC Code of Conduct or Competitions and Votes.
Everyone who runs a BBC vote must also read the summary guide at the start of this section to ensure they have complied with the requirements of this guidance.
This guidance note does not cover audience voting on politics and public policy, e.g. opinion polls, surveys and votes.
This part provides detailed editorial advice about how to run a BBC vote. It outlines the new BBC referrals and compliance process for use of telephony. In all cases where the vote involves telephony and/or a combination of online voting and telephony you will need technical, legal and contracts advice from the Interactive Technical Advice and Contracts Unit (ITACU).
Website: http://explore.gateway.bbc.co.uk/itacu (Link only available to internal BBC users)
The following principles apply to all BBC organised votes:
- Votes must be run in a robust, fair and accurate manner;
- The robustness of the voting mechanism should match the editorial significance or impact of the vote;
- Enough time must be allowed between the closure of the vote and the announcement of the result to ensure that the result can be properly collated and verified;
- Votes must not be set up with the aim of making a profit except where it has been authorised for the purpose of raising money for a BBC charitable cause;
- The audience has the right to expect that their votes will count;
- Under no circumstances whatsoever can the result of any BBC vote be faked.
It is essential that:
- No member of the production team or anyone else connected to running the vote alters the legitimate result;
- Any proposal to run a vote must be referred to the relevant Controller or equivalent Senior Manager in the division for sign off;
- Votes involving Premium Rate Telephony must be referred to the senior manager in your division charged with approving the use of Premium Rate telephony, who must consult Editorial Policy and ITACU;
- Premium Rate lines are used when they are the most suitable and safest way to handle large volumes of calls effectively;
- The lowest viable tariff must be charged. ITACU will advise on the tariff;
- The only time, in exceptional cases, that the BBC may use Premium Rate telephony to raise funds, is for a BBC charitable initiative. In such cases the editorial content of the programme must relate directly to the charitable cause. Any such proposals must be signed off by the Divisional Director and referred to Editorial Policy in advance;
- We will not use Premium Rate lines to raise funds for Charitable Appeals in CBBC output;
- Clear terms and conditions must be available for voters and for participants where relevant;
- Any proposal to use a text vote which will be run and resolved, in a live programme should be referred to ITACU who will consult with Editorial Policy.
- All pricing information must be given clearly and accurately, both verbally and visually where appropriate;
- We must not mislead the audience about the purpose of a vote;
- Voting may be carried out using fixed line telephony, text (SMS), online, or other means such as postal votes
1. Permissions and Referrals
All proposals for BBC votes must be referred in the first instance to a Controller or equivalent Senior Manager in your area for approval in principle. If a vote involves telephony or a combination of online voting and telephony you must consult ITACU well in advance and complete a voting approval form for authorisation and submit it to the Controller or equivalent Senior Manager in your division responsible for signing off votes.
In some cases, if a vote takes place daily, weekly or on a regular basis the Controller or equivalent Senior Manager may decide it is not necessary to complete the form for each separate edition. Approval may be obtained for the voting over a period of time (e.g. a month for a vote taking place daily). The exact period of time before a new approval may be required is at the discretion of the Controller or Senior Manager.
All approved votes and their supporting forms must be lodged on a database in each division and also submitted to ITACU. http://explore.gateway.bbc.co.uk/itacu (link only available to internal BBC users)
The specific referrals for Premium Rate Telephony are detailed in section 4 below.
1.1 Overseeing the Vote
An appropriate editorial figure in the relevant production area must be identified by the Division as being responsible for overseeing the running of the vote, and must have completed the relevant training as outlined in the approval form. This person must also be responsible for ensuring that the vote has been appropriately resolved and ensuring that relevant documentation has been retained and copies sent to ITACU.
Early discussions should take place between ITACU (where the vote involves telephony or online and telephony combined), the telephone service provider and the appropriate editorial figure responsible for overseeing the vote, whether the vote uses Premium Rate or other forms of telephony. This is because in order to ensure things run smoothly it is important that the appropriate editorial figure responsible for the running of the vote fully understands how the interactivity will work, in relation to the Programme or online editorial and the telephone service provider understands the editorial rationale. Further telephony technical advice must be obtained by ITACU.
This principle also applies for online votes which are to be used in television and radio programmes. There should be appropriate consultation between the appropriate editorial figure responsible for overseeing the programme and the interactive executive responsible for the online vote.
2. Setting Up a Vote
2.1 Appropriate Planning
A vote may run just for fun, where no one has anything obvious to gain from the result e.g. Britain's favourite bird. A vote may be used to express public admiration as in Great Britons. In a few cases, the outcome of a BBC public vote may represent a potentially life changing opportunity for individual winners. The outcome of mass public voting may be advantageous to organisations; it could be of interest to lobby groups and in some cases could represent a commercial advantage.
We have a duty to be fair to anyone who is being judged by an audience vote and also a duty to fairly and accurately reflect the opinions of the voting audience.
Careful consideration should be given at the outset as to whether a public vote is the most editorially appropriate method of deciding a result: it may not always be. Sometimes an alternative method such as a panel may be more appropriate.
It will not always be appropriate to use all forms of available interactivity for voting; in particular in some cases voting via text (SMS) and/or online may not be appropriate.
Careful planning is necessary to ensure that votes run effectively and can be conducted properly in the proposed time span. It may be necessary to seek specialist advice. Votes need to be adequately resourced throughout, in terms of technical support and administration. There must be sufficient resources to make sure that all legitimate votes are counted. Adequate records must be kept.
Enough time must be allowed for votes to be received, verified and collated before the result is announced.
2.2 Contingency Planning
Before you run a vote it is essential that you agree a contingency plan. This must be agreed and signed off by the appropriate editorial figure. It must outline what to do if there is a problem with the running of a vote. This could include a problem with the technology used for running the vote; clear attempts to rig the result; withdrawal of competitors. For any votes designed to serve a significant purpose, the contingency plan should also be discussed with Editorial Policy.
Separate contingency plans may be needed to outline what to do in the event of a failure of technology (refer to ITACU) or if there is an editorial or legal problem such as evidence of a breach of the rules by entrants (seek further advice from Editorial Policy & Programme Legal Advice).
In particular, you will need to consider what happens if the telephony system breaks down, or there is a tie for first place or any other crucial position (such as bottom two contestants who face elimination) during a live show. A suitable alternative method of deciding the final outcome must be agreed. This could include using a preselected and vetted section of the studio audience, the use of a panel, or in rare cases restarting the vote. Legal and Editorial Policy advice may need to be sought.
3. Which Voting Method Should You Use?
The voting method chosen should usually be the one which is most suitable for the target audience; for example, it is possible that a vote run on Radio 1 may be a text or online vote, a vote on a major Saturday night BBC One entertainment show is likely to use fixed line telephony. There are specific issues to consider with different methods. The main points are listed in the sections below.
4. Votes which Use Telephony
This is the most popular method. It is accessible by all sections of the audience as people can dial in from a landline or a mobile phone. If the vote is likely to have a high response, it may be appropriate to use a Premium Rate number. The telephony platform which supports the interactivity must be able to handle the likely volume of calls reliably and over the time period allowed for the vote. ITACU must be consulted.
Other non-Premium Rate numbers are available and may be suitable for some forms of voting - however numbers prefixed with "0871" are to also fall under PhonepayPlus [formerly known as ICSTIS] regulations as they will be classified as Premium Rate. You must ensure the type of telephony chosen can support the nature of the vote you are proposing to run. Advice should be sought at an early stage from ITACU.
Text (SMS) votes may use a short code of four to five numbers or long numbers of 11 digits. Short codes can be standard rate or have Premium Rate elements either when they are sent by the user or if a confirmation text is sent to the voter. Unlike fixed line telephony, you cannot always tell by the prefixes on short access codes whether the number proposed is a Premium Rate or not. ITACU will advise on whether a text short code is Premium Rate or not.
Text (SMS) messages can be charged either when the user sends their message to the BBC, or when they are sent a reply from the BBC. Which method is most appropriate will vary from case to case and should be discussed with ITACU who may consult with Editorial Policy well in advance of setting up the vote.
4.1 Premium Rate Telephony Services
Definition of Premium Rate Telephony Services (PRTS)
Premium Rate Telephony Services are those which deliver some form of content, or service which is charged to the users' phone bills. They can be run via fixed lines, mobile phones or interactive digital television.
Fixed line Premium Rate numbers are normally prefixed with '09'. Premium Rate text (SMS) services normally use short access codes typically four or five digit numbers. These will usually be shown on phone bills as 'Premium Rate call' or 'high Premium Rate service', although this may vary depending on individual mobile network operators. Premium Rate charging for mobile content is generally per text (SMS) message.
- Premium Rate lines are used when they are the most suitable and safest way to handle large volumes of calls effectively;
- The lowest viable tariff must be charged. Advice must be sought from ITACU;
- The only time, in exceptional cases, that the BBC may run Premium Rate Lines to raise funds, is for a BBC charitable initiative. In such cases the editorial content of the programme must relate directly to the charitable cause. Any such proposals must be signed off by the Divisional Director and referred to Editorial Policy in advance;
- All proposals to use Premium Rate telephony must be referred to the senior manager in your division charged with approving the use of Premium Rate telephony, and then must be referred to Editorial Policy and Legal and Business Affairs in ITACU (who may consult with Programme Legal advice). A Premium Rate telephony approval form must be authorised by the relevant Controller or Senior Manager. All Premium Rate competitions require legally approved rules;
- A non-chargeable system must be used on Premium Rate vote lines so callers trying to vote before or after lines open and close are not charged.
Any use of Premium Rate telephony must also comply with the Code of Practice issued by the telephony industry regulator PhonepayPlus (formerly ICSTIS) - please consult ITACU.
and relevant help notes:
4.2 Audience Information
It is extremely important that we are totally transparent with our audiences in relation to our use of Premium Rate telephony. We must ensure that they are given all relevant information. An IVR (Interactive Voice Response) system will normally be used to handle Premium Rate votes. This technology can use a computer to process voice responses or touch tone signals from a normal phone call. The IVR (interactive voice response system) can often use pre-recorded messages to give relevant
information to callers, such as the fact that their entry has been registered or which answer they have given in the case of multiple choice questions. These systems generally handle large call volumes.
Consult ITACU if you are intending to use an IVR system.
4.3 Information on Call Costs
Audiences must be informed clearly of how much it will cost them to interact with a BBC programme using Premium Rate numbers. On television, the BBC requires this information to be conveyed verbally at appropriate regular intervals.
Call cost information on a graphic should be clear and legible. Particular care should be taken over backing colours, font size and type of script, to ensure information is not hard to read.
Call cost information should also be given verbally, at appropriate regular intervals by a presenter or in a voice over and should be audible, clear and at a reasonable pace.
Call cost information may also be given as a recorded message on the competition entry lines.
It is also be advisable to display call cost information online where numbers are displayed.
It will not always cost the same to call from every network; calls from mobiles in particular may be more expensive. This must be declared on air. The standard wording is "calls cost x from a BT landline, calls from other operators may vary and mobiles will be considerably higher".
Where programmes are using Premium Rate competitions in order to raise money for BBC charitable appeals, audiences must be informed clearly what charity will benefit from the service. They must also be told what proportion of the call charge will be donated to the charity. For example "calls cost x from a BT landline, calls from other operators may vary and mobiles will be considerably higher. x from each call will go to BBC Children in Need/Comic Relief etc" (see 5.6 below).
We should also aim to inform them of call costs from non-Premium Rate telephony. Please consult ITACU.
Usually we do not display Premium Rate numbers online. Any proposal to do so should be referred to Editorial Policy. Where it is agreed to do so, all relevant call cost information must also be displayed. In some cases, particularly for popular high profile shows such as a TV talent show, with audience voting, we may decide to include a table showing indicative costs from the main mobile phone networks, on the show website. In such cases ITACU must be consulted at an early stage: they will provide this information for the website.
4.4 Information about Line Opening and Closing Times
Audiences must be informed clearly and precisely when competition lines open and close; this should include times and sometimes also dates where appropriate (for example where a vote is run over a long period of time).
When using Premium rate the telephony systems used must prevent callers from being charged, should they try to enter before lines open or after they close. ITACU must be consulted.
We must verbally and visually (for television) remind people not to enter before or after lines open or close. We normally state:
"do not enter before or after x time or your vote won't count and you may be charged".
For non-Premium Rate interactions:
If you have to use a system which cannot prevent callers being charged before a line opens or after it closes then the on air message should be:
"do not enter before or after x time or your entry won't count and you will be charged".
In most live programmes, where timings are likely to alter, it may not be possible to give an exact time for the opening or closing of a vote. In such cases, great care must be taken to ensure all verbal and visual information throughout the show is very clear to avoid any audience confusion. This should include a clear indication of the junction when lines open/close (e.g. lines will open/close after the next act has performed). If possible, there should be a time check of the number of minutes leading up to the opening/closing (e.g. if you have a VT immediately preceding the opening/closing, you should plan to say 'voting lines open/close in approximately x minutes').
4.5 Charity Fundraising
Any proposal to use Premium Rate competitions to raise money for charity must be referred in advance to the Divisional Director and Editorial Policy.
Programme Legal Advice must also be consulted if the proposal is approved.
Some programmes, series and strands within existing shows are specially commissioned as part of the charity fundraising output for BBC Appeals e.g. Comic Relief does Fame Academy. In such cases, where the output is directly connected, votes may be used as a form of donation.
We will not use Premium Rate lines to raise funds for Charitable Appeals in CBBC output.
4.6 Tariffs for Premium Rate Charity Fundraising Votes
A range of Premium Rate tariffs may be used to raise monies for charity; the BBC does not specify any one rate. These tariffs yield varying amounts for charity. In selecting the tariff care must be taken to ensure we do not charge our audiences a prohibitive amount, even if the monies are to be used for charity.
Sometimes Premium Rate text (SMS) entry may be used for charity fundraising for a BBC Appeal. Therefore very careful consideration is needed to ensure that the use of Premium Rate text (SMS) votes to raise money for charity is editorially justified. Itis possible that the charity or programme may wish to attract a specific demographic which would usually use text (SMS) entry for votes e.g. Radio One, BBC Three.
In all cases ITACU will advise on the appropriate tariff and will ensure the best return possible is achieved for the charitable appeal, whilst delivering a robust technical system. The final decision as to the appropriate tariff will be made in consultation with Editorial Policy.
4.7 Non-Premium Rate Telephony
A non- Premium Rate number may sometimes be more appropriate. Clear cost information should still be provided on air. Care should be taken to ensure the system proposed can support the interactivity. Advice must be sought from ITACU.
4.8 Text (SMS) Voting
Text voting is very popular among sections of our audience. It will not be suitable for all proposals, in particular it may not appropriate where the vote will run and result delivered in a live show. It is vital that enough time is allowed between the close of the vote and the collation, verification and announcement of the result. Text (SMS) votes are not delivered in real time. There can be a time lag between the viewer or listener sending a text, and the vote being registered, as the data has to go through several stages of processing. This delay can be considerable in some circumstances; any proposal to run a text (SMS) vote, which will be resolved during a live show, must be referred to ITACU who will also consult Editorial Policy.
Text messages can be charged when the user sends their message to the BBC (MO) or when they are sent a reply from the BBC (MT). Which method is most appropriate will vary from case to case and should be discussed with ITACU well in advance of setting up the vote.
4.9 Contracting Telephony Service Providers
Telephony service providers may be required to vote entry systems. In some cases they will run and aggregate the votes in all media including online. ITACU will advise whether a service provider is needed and put in place appropriate contracts.
For Independent Productions, the contracts and the supplier to be used must be approved by ITACU Legal & Business Affairs well in advance to check that they conform to BBC standards.
In all contracts ITACU will ensure that:
- Telephony lines are tested appropriately;
- There is a requirement for the service provider to provide the production team with a regular breakdown of results, and information on any unexpected patterns of voting, as far as is technically feasible - this must include a report on votes outside the relevant voting window even though such votes should not have been changed;
- Review meetings are held between the appropriate editorial figure responsible for overseeing the running of the competition, the telephone service provider, ITACU and, on some occasions Editorial Policy, to ensure the system has operated effectively and identify any issues;
- If any issues arise, either during the running of the vote, or if they become apparent after the final data is available, the appropriate editorial figure responsible for overseeing the vote must be informed; they will consult with ITACU and possibly Editorial Policy. Further senior consultation may be required and Programme Legal Advice may also need to be consulted.
5. Online Votes
Online voting is a popular form of interaction but while it is cheap for the online user, however it may not be easily available to a large minority of households. There is also no direct equivalent to the Caller Line Identification technology which may sometimes be available for telephony, so it may not be easy to identify individual voters online in order to bar multiple votes.
Votes which need a fast turn around time, for example as part of a live TV programme, will not normally be suitable to run online. This is particularly true where there may be a strong incentive to cheat, because checking the integrity of online votes is likely to take time and effort (see also section 8 for more details).
6. Voting from Multiple Platforms
It may be appropriate to offer the audience the chance to vote in a variety of ways e.g. online, text (SMS) and via a fixed line, or sometimes via a postal vote or other source - or any combination. However in such cases we need to ensure that all votes from all sources are properly aggregated. The appropriate editorial figure responsible for overseeing the vote must consult with ITACU, where telephony is involved to ensure that the system of accepting votes from a variety of sources is robust.
ITACU and the appropriate Senior Editorial figure will need to liaise between the different departments running different aspects of the vote and ensure appropriate measures are in place to feed verified results from all media into one centralised point for collation and final verification. Enough time should be allowed for this process; extra time should be allowed if some parts of the vote are also being collated by a third party, for example if we are in partnership with an outside organisation (see section 12). .
7. Fairness to Contenders
In some cases the winner of a vote may clearly stand to benefit from the result, for some it could even be a life changing opportunity. The BBC must ensure all contenders are treated fairly in all our coverage on and off air.
7.1 On Air
Care must be taken to ensure contenders are treated fairly when put before a public vote. Careful consideration must be given to fairness when making editorial decisions over how to feature contenders on air. For example where the vote is done by telephony all numbers should be given equal prominence and promotion; if a vote is to be run across a series of programmes where the performance of contestants is judged, it may be appropriate to consider varying the order in which contestants perform from week to week to ensure no one is disadvantaged; it may be appropriate to inform the audience regularly of the numbers of all the contestants as well as giving out numbers individually.
In most circumstances in order to ensure that all contestants have a fair chance where telephone voting is used lines should be opened after all the contestants have been featured (e.g. in the case of a talent show this would be after they have all performed; in a series this may vary further into the run as the audiences begin to vote on the basis of cumulative performances as well as on a week by week basis)
Further advice may be needed from Editorial Policy.
7.2 Terms and Conditions for Contestants
Where appropriate, for example where winners stand to gain materially from the result, contenders should normally be given clear written guidance outlining the terms of the vote. Legal advice may be needed and contracts should be put in place with contenders. Contenders may be enthusiastic about the vote. It can help raise excitement around the vote if they garner support. However we need to ensure that this activity does not result in any unfairness and we need to give clear advice at the outset. Further advice must be sought from Editorial Policy who may consult with ITACU Legal and Business Affairs, Business Affairs in the relevant divisions or Programme Legal Advice where relevant.
Contenders must be reminded that where appropriate there may be a process in place to detect deliberate attempts to manipulate the result and that the BBC reserves the right to discount such votes. They must be informed in writing that if there is evidence that they or anyone working on their behalf has attempted to deliberately manipulate the result this could lead to disqualification. In some cases formal briefings should be held to remind contenders of the rules of the contest. These briefings must be documented.
Contenders may wish to publicise the vote to gain support. However it is important that competitors are not disadvantaged because they cannot afford professional marketing help. They must be informed in writing that they should not engage in paid for marketing, to drum up support. For example they may not normally take out paid for advertising or promotions in support of their nomination. No BBC embargoed information should be released, such as the vote line numbers, before the BBC has released them.
Where the BBC is publicising the vote, great care should be taken to ensure we do not favour one nominee or contestant above another; all should be treated fairly.
8. Integrity of the Vote
It is important to protect the integrity of the vote. We must ensure that the robustness of the voting mechanism and its administration matches the vote's editorial significance.
8.1 Integrity of the Vote when Using Telephony Systems
We need to balance carefully the desire of some of our audiences to vote enthusiastically and the need to ensure that the end result is robust and a fair and genuine reflection of the opinion of those who voted.
Audiences may sometimes vote enthusiastically for example where the vote is in a popular entertainment show. However a deliberate and organised attempt to manipulate the result is clearly different from an individual eagerly registering their opinion several times in a show.
Our published terms and conditions should clearly state that the BBC has the right to disallow votes, if it detects deliberate attempts to manipulate the result. Legal advice should be sought from ITACU Legal and Business Affairs who may consult Programme Legal Advice.
We may need to consider measures, in some cases, to restrict the number of times people can vote, where this is editorially appropriate and technically possible, i.e. "vote capping". ITACU will advise on the technical feasibility of such a proposal and additions to terms and conditions and on-air messaging (see also 4.8).
For Independent Productions, the contracts and the supplier to be used must be approved by ITACU Legal & Business Affairs well in advance to check that they conform to BBC standards.
8.2 Integrity of the Vote when Using Online Systems
Online voting can provide an effective method for large numbers of people to interact by registering their support for specific choices. But an online vote only represents a self selecting sample of people, it is representative of nothing more than those people who have chosen to respond and it should clearly be reported as such.
For guidance on online votes about a political or public policy issue, see Section 10 of the Editorial Guidelines: Politics, Public Policy and Polls.
An Interactive Executive must be responsible for overseeing the running of every online vote. Any division or network may nominate one executive as the referral point for such queries.
It is worth remembering that while online voting is cheap for the user, it is also cheap for one malicious person to write and run a voting script with the intention of registering thousands of online votes surreptitiously in order to try to manipulate the result.
8.3 Robustness of the Voting Mechanism
We must ensure that the robustness of the online voting engine is sufficient to meet the editorial requirement whilst effectively mitigating the associated risks.
We need to make sure the vote engine is genuinely "fit for purpose", can meet the editorial requirement and ensure the BBC brand is protected.
The BBC has several online voting engines which include Vote 2006, Vision's Log2Results and the new pan-BBC vote engine, iVote, which will be available late 2010.
Producers should work with the Interactive Technical Advice and Contracts Unit (ITACU) to ensure that the right tool is picked for the job. ITACU approval is required for all online voting and so should be the first port of call when looking to run one.
When looking to utilise vote engines which are external to the BBC, Editorial Policy and ITACU should be consulted immediately and the latter will conduct a formal review of the proposed technology. Information Security sign-off and Information Policy and Compliance sign off remain the responsibility of the editorial team.
8.4 Verifying Voting Patterns
We should ensure that we undertake additional checks where necessary. Some methods of manipulating online votes are not immediately obvious. For example, if a user succeeds in running a multiple voting script against a BBC vote, there may be no obvious visible 'spike'. The script may register a vote once a minute, (24 hours a day, or intermittently), for as long as the vote is open. This means that unless the BBC actively checks the logs for suspicious patterns like this, we may not find the suspect votes.
8.5 Allowing Enough Time to Collate Results
We should allow enough time in the period between closing the online vote and announcing the result for the votes to arrive, be processed and checked.
Working out whether a block of votes breaks the rules and should be discounted can take time, skill and judgement. The more sophisticated the attack, the more sophisticated the defence should be to match it, As an example, the server logs for the online vote in the earlier rounds of Great Britons some years ago were checked for multiple voting scripts over many hours after the vote had closed. Approximately 250,000 of the 750,000 votes cast were rejected as unsatisfactory, before the final result was announced.
Where an online vote is combined with a telephony vote ITACU must be consulted.
8.6 Publishing Running Totals During a Vote
We should also consider very carefully indeed whether to announce running totals before the final verified result. In many cases, this will not be appropriate:
- While displaying running totals can add excitement to the voting process, it can also alter the course of the vote dramatically. It can encourage users to try to manipulate or "game" the system, it gives malicious users live information on which competitors to target and it gives them instant feedback on whether their attempts to manipulate the vote have worked;
- If we display live running results before freezing the vote for checking, anyone will be able to see if we then remove any votes as the totals will go down. We will then be under pressure to give a detailed explanation in every single case about why we have done this, which users may not readily accept as being fair. (But see section 15 for our duty to be transparent if the vote has to be postponed or set aside).
8.7 Editorial Control Over a Vote
Output which relies on online voting should normally be based on a vote run or directly commissioned by the BBC.
This gives us editorial control over the robustness of the voting mechanism. Any proposal to base BBC output on an online vote which is not run or directly commissioned by the BBC, for example on a third party social networking site. Any proposals to carry out a BBC vote on a third party social networking site must be referred well in advance to Editorial Policy.
8.8 Information on Voting Systems
How to vote must be clear:
- The rules themselves must be clear;
- It must be clear to the first time user exactly how the online voting or rating mechanism works;
- One way to make it harder for malicious users to manipulate or "game" our voting technology is to give those users as little feedback as possible about the effectiveness of their attacks. We should not normally let individual users know when their online votes have been discounted, disqualified or set aside (see also section 15 which outlines our duty to be transparent with audiences if things go wrong).
8.9 Votes which Involve a Substantial Prize
We must take particular care about the robustness and integrity of online votes to win major or life-changing opportunities (for example in a talent show or competitive award) from the earliest stages, in order to protect the integrity of the votes or programmes around which they are built.
In addition we need to think carefully in advance about how users are likely to behave. For example, some people may find a strong incentive to cheat over an award worth a lot of money; others may be motivated to try to rig a vote to win a "money-can't-buy" opportunity: a chance to win professional training or to perform in front of a huge audience and launch a new career.
8.10 360 Degree Commissioning
Where there is a 360 degree commissioning process:
- We should make sure that the team responsible for the online vote talk in detail to the Audio or Vision production team about exactly what is needed;
- The online team will need to know exactly what the editorial significance of the vote is so that they can make sure it is matched by the robustness of the online voting mechanism;
- The online team will need to be very clear in return to the Audio or Vision production team about how much time, editorial, technical and other resource will be needed to deliver the vote. For example, we should routinely test the vote in advance of going live, for load and overall technical and editorial performance, wherever possible. This is essential where we are planning anything we haven't done before.
Where there is no 360 degree commission, the same consultation process should happen from the earliest stages between the editorial and technical teams.
Great care must be taken at the outset to consider whether an online vote is really likely to generate a large enough number of votes to ensure that the result is robust. This is because a low number of votes make it much easier for a determined person to manipulate the result. Decisions by the BBC as to whether to exclude a small number of votes are also more likely to affect the overall result. Careful thought needs to be given to effective publicity and promotion to maximise the likely number of votes.
Careful monitoring must be put in place to track the progress of the vote. If there is too low a response rate to ensure that the result is robust, a decision must be taken by the senior editorial figure in charge of overseeing the vote as to whether to continue, in some circumstances the vote may need to be abandoned if it cannot be deemed to be a robust result. In such cases Editorial Policy should be informed.
If there are serious doubts as to whether an online method of voting is appropriate you may wish to consider whether using another method such as telephony could help address the issue.
9. Calculating the Result
The public has a right to expect that their votes will count. Enough time must be allowed between the close of voting lines and the announcement of a result, to ensure that appropriate checks have been made and the votes have been counted, this is particularly important in live programming.
Any proposals for text votes must be referred to ITACU who will consult Editorial Policy.
If voting is allowed by text (SMS) it should be remembered that often it can take a considerable time for text (SMS) messages to be registered. In some live shows, depending on the format, voting by text (SMS) may not be appropriate at all.
In certain circumstances where the vote is for a very serious purpose, for example it presents a life changing opportunity and the result will have a major benefit to a third party or for high profile events we may consider adding an independent adjudicator to the process. For example we could use a suitable person such as an independent solicitor or accountant.
10. Pre-recorded and Repeated Programmes
10.1 Pre-recorded Programmes
If a vote is run during the course of a programme, the audience will normally presume that the programme is live. The inclusion of interactivity into a pre-recorded show can cause problems if not handled carefully. We must never knowingly mislead the audience.
Great care must be taken to ensure that it is appropriate to include a vote in a pre-recorded programme; that the vote mechanism is still valid and robust; and that particular care has been taken over scripting to avoid misleading the audience in any way. It will also be important to add extra explanatory information online with the terms and conditions.
If a programme has been pre-recorded, and a problem has been identified before transmission which renders the voting information inaccurate, then the programme should not be transmitted without appropriate changes. This may require reediting. The appropriate editorial figure responsible for overseeing the vote must be consulted.
10.2 Repeated Programmes
If a programme which includes a vote is to be repeated we must never mislead the audience into thinking they can vote when in fact they cannot. This is particularly important if the vote is via telephony. But whatever the method, people must not be misled.
In some cases programmes may need to be edited before repeating:
- For television, we must totally obscure or remove voting details if they are on graphic in the original programme;
- We should also use an announcement or add a graphic to inform viewers the vote is closed;
- Where there are verbal announcements of voting details it will be necessary to edit or to have a strap running through that section of the programme to inform the audience the vote has closed;
- For radio, appropriate edits must be made.
Under no circumstances should a programme be repeated where it is known that there were errors in the voting or audience information without appropriate changes. This also applies to On Demand services - see below.
10.3 On Demand Services including BBC iPlayer
Many of the BBC's programmes are now available on a range of On Demand services, in particular the BBC iPlayer. It is important that audiences are informed that the interactivity may have changed or be closed. There are various ways of doing this:
- A short specially commissioned VT at the start of the show which will remind people that interactivity may no longer be open and direct them to the programme website for up to date information;
- A strap with audience information;
- The programme synopsis, which describes the programme content, must highlight that the programme includes interactivity and direct people to the website for information, where relevant.
Productions must ensure they liaise with the On Demand scheduling team, to inform them of programmes which need additional information. It may not be appropriate for some programmes which include interactivity to be included in the On Demand Schedule, if appropriate announcements and audience information cannot be given.
In Radio, for services such as radio iPlayer), programme teams must liaise with the Audio and Music interactive teams to ensure that information in programmes which contain votes or competitions is amended accordingly.
11. Jointly Run Votes with Third Parties
Any proposal to run a jointly organised vote must be referred to Editorial Policy.
In certain cases we may decide to mount a vote in conjunction with an appropriate third party, such as an arts institution, publication or sporting body. The BBC must at all times be responsible editorially for the vote. Normally we would not run votes in conjunction with a commercial organisation.
Whether the vote is to be run on or off air, we must ensure that the third party is a suitable partner and does not call into question the BBC's editorial integrity, objectivity or independence.
Usually we would expect the voting to be directly managed by the BBC. In some cases it might be that the final result is a combination of votes that have been registered via the BBC and its partners. In such cases we must be entirely happy that the voting procedures put in place by partners meet BBC standards and the BBC should oversee the final result.
In some cases, for example the Brits, Bafta etc BBC audiences may have the opportunity to vote in a third party awards event ; refer to BBC Detailed Guidance on Mounting and Running an Award.
12. Publicising BBC Votes
Suitable third parties, such as BBC Worldwide magazines or other publications or suitable online sites may be used occasionally by the BBC to help publicise our votes. Magazines may include articles about our votes and voting forms; third party websites may link back to a BBC online vote. However we should not refer to the third party on-air, and we should only give out on-air the BBC method of voting.
13. Votes in Programmes Aimed at or Likely to Involve Children
Great care must be taken about any votes which are aimed at or are likely to attract children.
Any proposal to use Premium Rate telephony in a vote aimed at children must be referred to the relevant Controller in your division.
We do not use Premium Rate Telephony in votes in CBBC output.
14. If Things Go Wrong
Nothing matters more than trust and fair dealing with our audiences. Even with the best planning things may occasionally go wrong and in extreme cases this could result in problems on air. However, even though there may be pressures to keep programmes on the air, we must never compromise our editorial integrity.
Refer up, as soon as possible if serious problems over the robustness of the voting system begin to develop. The appropriate editorial figure responsible for the programme which contains the vote must be informed, even if the problems have occurred in another media. For example, the vote may be run on several platforms and the problem may have occurred only online, however the television or radio executive must be made aware of this at the earliest opportunity.
The problems with the vote could have significant consequences for the programme. The appropriate editorial figure will need to decide what action may be needed on-air, whether further advice or further referrals upwards are needed, and what relevant audience information should be given out as soon as possible.
If the vote is online then the relevant Interactive executive must be informed.
In all cases it is vital that we do not inadvertently encourage people to keep entering when we know the vote may be compromised.
All measures possible must be taken to try to rectify the problem.
Do not announce or publish an incorrect result on-air, online or in any other media.
Instead explain to the audience that there has been a problem and the result will be announced at a later date. This must be done even if the whole programme or project has been developed or billed around the result of the vote.
BBC Press and Publicity should also be alerted.
The need for transparency is paramount. Audiences will value our openness. Online, we may wish to publish an explanation and an FAQ to give people more information about what has gone wrong and why.
15. Documentation and Verification
15.1 Independent Verification and Adjudication
In the case of votes where the prize is of high value or importance, the programme associated with the vote is high profile and particularly where Premium Rate telephony has been used to decide the outcome, it may be appropriate to ensure that the result is overseen by an independent verifier. ITACU will advise on such matters and contract a verifier in such circumstances.
Appropriate records must be kept by the appropriate editorial figure responsible for overseeing the interactivity and also by service providers to demonstrate votes have been run fairly, appropriately, in accordance with the BBC Guidelines, the relevant sections of the Ofcom Code and the PhonepayPlus (ICSTIS) Code, and in accordance with the terms and conditions. ITACU will advise what documentation must be kept and will also act as a central repository for the information and data. (firstname.lastname@example.org)