Monday, September 12, 2016

All TV show voting is fixed! Or is it? (Part 2)

auplause sign

TV Audience Voting—from Applause Meters to Funniest Home Videos and American Idol

The original method of empowering an in-house TV audience to vote was an applause meter used to measure sound (applause). If you are old enough, you remember the host of the show holding his hand over the head of each contestant and a shot of the needle spiking on the meter to determine the winner.

The next step (almost three decades ago) was when Quick Tally started wired in-house electronic keypad voting for America’s Funniest Home Videos. We used our purpose-made voting devices. The $100,000.00 prize shows involved in-studio voting at multiple “away” locations. The more modern methodology involves having viewers log onto the show’s website to cast their votes along with the studio audience.

An exhibit at the Smithsonian Museum honoring America’s Funniest Home Videos contains our original wired device. They were honored for helping develop the reality-show with voting competition. It used our purpose-made wired devices (keypads). Our largest events (and the world’s largest at the time) were arenas of 5,000 people. It took a crew of 45 people a full day to wire an arena.

Large and reliable wireless events were made possible with the advent of spread spectrum radio technology. It really began during World War II, Hedy Lamarr and a scientist invented spread spectrum technology. It was created by a need to work around interference with radio signals to torpedoes. They devised it using piano roll to move between frequencies. It is the basis for modern Audience Response Technology.

The Rise of Phone / Text / Internet Voting

Almost thirty years ago telephone land line call in voting was tried by Funniest Home Videos. They were on right track; however technology wasn’t up to the task. The millions of calls coming in all at once cooked the phone lines. Quick Tally still provides the in-studio voting for AFV.

Texting then empowered huge audiences to participate using their own devices. When the voters were outside of the studio, all bets were off regarding fairness. The producers were happy to expand the audience involvement. They also realized that by splitting the texting fee, or being sponsored by the carriers -- on millions of calls, was very profitable. Text message short-codes or automated phone numbers automatically debit the cost of the vote from a user’s phone.

After 9-11 people were afraid to travel. Online meeting participation solutions became popular. Voting was now possible on any web enabled device and on a huge scale. The number of smartphones world-wide is forecast to reach 2.08 billion this year. To put that into perspective world population is 7.4 billion. Television soon made that ease of participation into a production element.

American Idol -- the benefits and problems with text and internet voting

The success of American Idol has been described as "unparalleled in broadcasting history".

In 2014 the population of the United States was 318.9 million. American Idol had 178 million texts in a single season, that’s more texts than half of the US population.

There is a two hour window where the audience can vote for their favorite performers in multiple ways: (1) Toll-free Number Voting; (2) Text Voting; (3) Online Voting (Facebook, Google, etc.) and (4) the American Idol App Voting.

Viewers were allowed to vote as many times as they can on the internet within the two-hour voting window. Voting via text messaging was made available when AT&T Wireless joined as a sponsor of the show. The number of text messages reached 178 million by season eight. Online voting was offered for the first time in season ten.

Good news/bad news!

The good news with the ability to move voting out of the studio is that anyone can vote. The bad news is that anyone can vote—and they can do it multiple times. The desire to vote as many times as possible lead to the rise of Power Voting, which is where viewers use some sort of program that allows them to cast more votes than they could on their own. The show “has the right to discard” that voting. (That is not to say that they do, or do not.) The overall process is fair only in that everyone has an equal opportunity to subvert the vote.

Huge Benefits

Texting and Web based applications have several important benefits:

  • The viewer is hooked. By allowing the viewer to think that their vote matters and perceive a result in the form of an artist surviving, than the viewer will believe that their interactivity is influential.
  • This involvement and heightened interest created the need for a second highly rated and profitable “results” show.
  • In the beginning of the process producers figured out that there were large amounts of money to be made from splitting the fees with the texting service providers.
  • The voting helps determine which contestant is most popular and marketable. This is extremely valuable information for future shows and potential investments in record sales, etc.
  • The ability to track and possibly respond to viewers is a great chance to sell them on seeing the results show, other shows, or soap suds.

The Future

First a little history, an American TV Network broadcast a Shakespeare play in the 1950s. Not a very notable, or spectacular television event, except that more people saw the play that day, than had seen it from the day it was written until then. More viewers than in the history of the world! That was the power of just one American TV Network.

We’ll have to wait and see what future technology makes possible and what we (and the producers) do with it. Perhaps producers will think of a way to involve most of the enabled world in a show concept.

With over 30 years of experience in helping clients achieve their meetings goals. I am passionate about the power of insight. If I can help your firm discover this power, please contact me.

Alan Warshaw
Quick Tally® Interactive Systems, Inc.
Direct Dial: 310.306.4930

About Me

After graduating from New York University with a degree in Communications, Alan attended the New School for Social Research, Graduate School at N.Y.U. and the Master’s Program in Cinema at U.C.L.A. Following his service in the U.S. Army, Alan was employed by Doyle, Dane and Burnbach Advertising Agency. He worked in the U.S. and Europe in the feature motion picture production business. He was employed by Quick Tally Interactive Systems for one year prior to acquiring the company. He has owned and run the company for almost three decades and has pioneered in the manufacturing of ARS equipment and providing interactive event services. In addition to US State and Federal Government Agencies, America's leading companies, associations and television networks, he has also worked for events clients in the EU, New Zealand, Hong Kong Thailand and Dubai.