Sunday, 3 November 2013

TV and Telephone Voting

Television shows that take place over the course of an evening which are decided by telephone voting are frequently blighted by what I call the "I've just come in from the pub mob" and the "I've watched something else and then just flipped over for the end posse".

The problem
What happens is these groups of people both only see the end of the show and then, understandably, vote for one of the later candidates/acts/talents (CATs), because that's one of the ones they've seen. This gives the final CAT a significant advantage over everyone else and, indeed, depending on the country's pub culture and the other programmes on that evening with significant viewing shares, each CAT an advantage over all the ones who were on before them.

Solutions so far
There are measures designed to counteract this. One is having each CAT having to do something more than once. If, in a singing show with three CATs, each CAT has to sing twice, then you at least have CAT1 singing once after each of CAT3 and CAT2 has sung their first song (assuming a 1,2,3,1,2,3 order) - or you could have a different order like 1,2,3,3,2,1 to try to maximise fairness. Whatever you do though, you have one CAT who's on last and who catches the votes of the aforementioned mob and posse.

Another idea is to open the voting lines straight away, before any CATs have even been on stage. This is flawed insofar as it means that people who vote based on a performance have more time to vote for certain CATs whilst people who just vote based on prior sympathies can vote regardless of what the CATs actually do on the night.

So if we want a fair vote reflective of people's assessments of what the CATs have done during the show, this doesn't work. You could argue that being able to vote for CAT1 balances out the swing to CAT3 from the mob and posse, but having two terrible features in a system and hoping they approximately balance one another out is a bit like throwing a few nukes around and hoping more baddies than goodies die: neither scientific nor likely to work.

What you could do
My suggestion is to get people to register to vote. This would take place in the waffle that happens at the start of the show before any CATs have been on. This segment usually takes at least 15 minutes (on a standard Saturday evening format) and is ample time for people who are generally interesting in digging in for the evening to send a short text message (SMS) or ring up a number.

By registering they would make themselves (or anyone with the same phone number) eligible to vote during the voting phase, which would only begin after the last CAT's last performance. This seems technically straightforward to implement and would restrict voting to those people who have seen the whole show and so can make a fair decision. Clearly, some people might have some chips or something and miss one of the CATs, but you can imagine people's chip-eating habits to be varied enough for this to even itself out and not significantly (dis)advantage one CAT over another.

I don't really see many problems with this. You could, for example, easily adjust the price of calls to stop having to ring in twice hitting the voters' bank balances too much. It doesn't solve the fact that some certain audience sections (with some correlation with the kind of CAT they like) are more likely to take part in a phone vote than others, but that's true of all votes. At a parliamentary election, there are some sections of the electorate who would rather go down the pub than go cast their vote. And they automatically get underrepresented in the House of Commons.

The only real flaw I can see in this system is that it would probably lead to fewer votes coming in, which would mean less money being made. But if there has to be a victim for the sake of overall fairness, then you could find a worse one than television producers.