It was one of the biggest nights in participation television in Britain, as two top shows went head to head, collecting millions of phone votes between them. Unfortunately the producers on the BBC Strictly Come Dancing show had to freeze the phone vote and finish the programme early, once they finally realised that many of the viewers may have been wasting their money voting.
When the judges gave two dance couples equal points there was no way the remaining couple could be saved from the possibility of elimination, no matter how many viewer votes they received.
Viewers were still invited to vote, until the producers realised the implications and decided to put all three couples through to the final and roll the viewer votes over to the following week. It seemed unbelievable that the production team had not anticipated such an eventuality, which arose following the previous departure of one of the contestants.
When the results programme began, the presenters announced that the votes had been frozen but offered no explanation. It was only at the end of the show that the participants were told that they would all be going through to the final. The programme ended ten minutes early in disarray, leaving the network to play out endless trailers to get back on schedule, no doubt losing viewers all the time.
Viewers have already have their faith in television votes undermined by repeated incidents for which broadcasters have been fined for misleading their audiences. So it is all the more remarkable that such as situation can have arisen, given the level of scrutiny and the independent verification of procedures.
Angry fans complained on message boards, concerned not so much that they had been misled, but that the voting format was clearly flawed. Some responded positively to the way it was handled. Others pointed out that it was only a television programme and should not be taken so seriously, with little sense of the irony of their own comments.
Meanwhile, on ITV, the final of the X Factor singing show was watched by an estimated 15 million viewers and received over eight million votes in a single evening. That is around a third of the number of voters in the last general election, providing an indication of how much some viewers are prepared to pay to participate in programmes by voting. The show also apparently received an unprecedented level of betting interest on the result.
The winner was Alexandra Burke, who seemed to have everything going for her, receiving 58% of the viewer votes, although it was later revealed that another contestant had won the majority of the previous rounds.