ITV has admitted overcharging viewers voting in its X Factor talent show. Satellite viewers using the red button on their remote control were charged 50 pence a vote instead of the advertised cost of 35 pence. However, they were only charged 35 pence to enter a competition rather than a pound as stated.

The discrepancy was discovered when the commercial channel received its revenue statement from satellite television operator Sky. The net result of a data input error on the part of ITV was a surplus of £200,000.

The error affected over a million red button votes on the series of programmes broadcast between 14 October and 16 December 2006. Landline, mobile and text entries — which provide the majority of revenue — were unaffected.

ITV is making a donation of £200,000 to Childline, the 24-helpline for children. The company is also offering to repay the additional 15 pence collected from every vote to any viewer that claims and provides evidence from a telephone bill.

ITV said in a statement: “We very much regret that a mistake was made in the red button payment systems during the last series of the X Factor and we apologise to all those viewers affected. ITV operates a robust audit system which closely monitors interactive revenues and this system picked up the incorrect pricing at the first available opportunity.”

“This was an isolated incident of human error and since this incident ITV has undertaken a thorough review of the operation of its interactive services and systems. We are confident that we have a fair and transparent system that works and delivers a good service to viewers.”

Viewers wishing to claim the 15 pence per red button vote overpayment can do so by contacting ITV on freephone 08000 63 62 63. They will be invited to submit a copy of their phone bill to a freepost address.

ITV has notified ICSTIS, the premium rate services regulator in the United Kingdom, which has welcomed the approach.

You Say, We Pay
ICSTIS is also investigating alleged irregularities relating to premium rate phone-ins. Viewers of the ‘You Say, We Pay’ quiz on Channel 4 were apparently invited to call after participants had been selected. Viewers of Saturday Kitchen on the BBC were encouraged to call in to pre-recorded programmes that were presented as live. The same production company and network operator were responsible for both shows.

“Viewers must get a fair deal,” said Sir Alistair Graham, the chairman of ICSTIS. “This type of practice is not acceptable,” he said. “Viewers deserve better.”

In an open letter to industry executives he wrote: “my concern is that these problems are resulting in a loss of viewer trust in participation TV and in the premium rate payment mechanism”. He continued: “We need to look afresh at where and why there are risks in running these services and, perhaps, in the value-chain and how it works.”

The regulator is to meet leading broadcasters, programme makers and premium rate service providers to agree what practical steps can be taken to restore consumer trust in the sector.