Archive: ITV Play

Last night I was a bit bored so I indulged in a spot of channel surfing to see if there was anything decent on. There usually isn’t. But even with my lowered expectations, my jaw literally dropped when I saw what STV were broadcasting — STV Roulette.

Yes, if you thought dodgy gambling programmes were the preserve of the arse end of the Sky channel list, think again. It is right here on Scotland’s Channel 3 franchise, a public service broadcaster no less. You will be delighted to know that STV plan on broadcasting this tat three days a week, for three hours a day.

Presumably this is part of of STV’s much-hyped strategy of promoting “home produced content”. However, STV Roulette and the STV Casino website are produced by NetPlay TV, whose studios are in London.

In recent times, STV has increasingly pursued a strategy of turning down the opportunity to broadcast some of ITV’s best programmes in favour of showing dodgy local clip shows, American imports and… oh, “home produced content”. But the identity of this “home produced content” remains a mystery to viewers. That is probably because it simply doesn’t exist.

I suppose Fitz — a cheap American import — is supposed to count. Apparently it has some kind of vague connection to Cracker. So the trailer tells us anyway. In fact, “Fitz” turned out to be a description of what STV viewers go through every time they realise that their favourite programme has been ditched in favour of some kind of low budget michty-me, jings, crivens and help ma boab bunch of SHITE.

Oh, and apparenty South Park counts as “home produced content” because, in the words of STV’s Managing Director of Broadcast Services, Bobby Hain, it is “mischievous and cheeky”, just like Scottish people! Huh?!

This new found love for “local” programming really is rich coming from STV too. This is a station that, just a few years ago, would do anything to avoid showing locally produced programmes. It blatantly reached its quota of regional programmes with cynical late-night repeats of Weir’s Way and extra editions of Scotland Today Interpreted For The Deaf. As if the ploy wasn’t blatant enough, these showings were ramped up a bit towards the end of the year as well, presumably because the quota needed filling.

I think a lot of people assumed that STV had already been taken over by ITV plc, which sadly is not the case. Any bosses who think people tune in to watch STV are living in cloud cuckoo land. They press button 3 to watch ITV, and expect to watch ITV programmes. That is because regional television is an anachronism that viewers do not care about. This is why STV’s odd strategy has proved so controversial.

STV’s plan wouldn’t be so laughable if it wasn’t based on the totally bogus premise that anyone actually likes regional variations. As I have written before, regional variations are always rubbish, as this excellent clip from The Armando Iannucci Shows ably explains:

I know plenty of people who have mentioned in passing how upset they are that STV refuse to broadcast their favourite programmes. Among the programmes missed by Scottish viewers are showings of the FA Cup, The Bill, Midsomer Murders, Kingdom… I could go on.

New episodes of Lewis are not broadcast, but repeats are fine. New episodes of Poirot are bumped in favour of repeats of Poirot. If those have run out they will show a series of South Park. Other gaps can be filled with cheaply-sourced American imports, Irish (!) imports or films.

That shows up the policy for what it is. This stunt is nothing to do with locally produced programming. This is no favour to the Scottish viewers. It’s all about money. Or so you would think. Quite how STV intends to increase advertising revenues by showing a load of cheap C-grade crap in place of what the viewers are actually expecting is a mystery to all.

STV Roulette is a prime example of STV’s clueless desperation to make money. It is not as if ITV plc has a better record in this department. A couple of years ago it fell in love with the then-fashionable “quiz television” fad, where late-night viewers would be goaded into phoning a premium rate number to answer a question with no proper answer. ITV even set up an entire channel, ITV Play, dedicated to the genre. That was until the public realised they were being hoodwinked, bad publicity ensued and the whole quiz television industry backfired on itself.

At least ITV have got over the fad however. STV seems not to have noticed that it’s bad form to put on this sort of programming. It apparently has no qualms about dedicating 9 hours per week of its channel towards encouraging late-night (i.e. drunk) viewers to gamble.

Sometimes I wonder if STV’s real strategy is to deliberately drive itself into the ground. That way it wouldn’t have to bother with all of that pesky “catering to the viewers” or “making money” business like other commercial channels. Instead it could rely on subsidies for its eternal existence. Genius.

It is already going cap in hand asking for a £5 million subsidy in return for carrying out one of its obligations as a public service broadcaster. Apparently five mil a “reasonable sum”. I am not sure how many people would agree with that, though I reckon a lot of people would be more receptive to the request if they actually showed any sign of wishing to serve their viewers rather than going on some odd crusade of apparent self-destruction.

Watch STV? I’ll opt out, thanks.

Long term readers of this blog will know that I am not a big fan of phone-in quizzes. So when the recent controversy surrounding premium rate phone lines I was quite pleased. But now I think it has turned into media bandwagon.

More and more instances of dodgy goings-on are being sniffed out by the media. The problem is, each subsequent new problem is less important than the last one. Now the premium rate phone lines look a bit amateurish — but not evil, which is what they actually are.

Not that I have any sympathy for the viewers who phone in time after time and somehow expect not to be charged. Take the fuss surrounding Channel Five’s Brainteaser. There were a few instances where the producers were unable to find anybody who had a correct answer among the ten random names and numbers supplied by the people in charge of the phone lines.

If you have ever watched Brainteaser, you will know just how cretinous you have to be to get the answer wrong. The most common puzzles on Brainteaser are are a bit like anagrams, but instead of all the letters being jumbled up, groups of letters are jumbled up. A typical example (stolen from here) is “LL WA PER PA”.

Not too difficult is it? To be honest, I don’t blame the producers for not having a contingency plan in case they can’t find somebody out of a list of ten people who can’t get the correct answer. It might have been misguided for them to make up fake names of non-winners, but this smacks more of panicking producers on a live TV show who don’t know what to do rather than the pure evil that can be found on other quiz channels.

Then there is the hoo-ha over The X Factor, where viewers were charged a bank-breaking 15 pence. I mean, most people probably drop that amount of money every day without realising it. And if you can’t spare that extra 15 pence, what on earth are you doing using premium rate phone-in lines where your chances of affecting the result are approximately zero?

Channel 4’s The Morning Line got in trouble for charging callers who were stupid enough to phone up after it was announced that the lines were closed. If the phrase “phone lines are now closed” isn’t enough to stop you phoning in, then you really have nothing to complain about.

And now we have got to the point where children are being dragged into the whole thing. A Blue Peter phone-in competition where proceeds went to charity fell victim to a technical glitch. Much like the Brainteaser instance, a panicking member of the production put a child who happened to be visiting the studio on the air to pose as a competition entrant.

Note the final couple of paragraphs in the story:

But Ms Zahoor, whose information led to the discovery, says she thinks the BBC’s reaction is “silly”.

“I didn’t realise that it would be blown out of all proportion,” she said, adding that she had refused to lodge a formal complaint about the show.

Again, it was probably misguided, but it is hardly the deception and near fraud that you find on some channels. I can’t actually imagine how lame the next “premium rate phone call revelation” is going to be. 999 lines open instead of the 1,000 promised? Comic Relief is going to be fun this year!

What really gets me the most about this storm is the fact that the very worst examples of the genre are getting away with it. The media is after the big names like Britain’s finest comedy duo Richard and Judy, Saturday Kitchen, The X Factor and Blue Peter.

But the quiz channels themselves — entire channels that are devoted to these controversial competitions — are carrying on pretty much as normal. There was a slightly eerie evening recently when there was only one of these on Freeview — Big Game TV on Ftn (how different would it be if this channel were called ‘Virgin’, its true colours?). But TMF’s Pop the Q was only gone for one evening due to a technical problem.

Channel Five dropped Quiz Call in the wake of the Brainteaser problems, but Quiz Call itself carries on as normal on Sky. The ITV Play channel has been axed by ITV, but only because it wasn’t making enough money!

These might be signs that the phone-in quiz television genre has hit the rocks. But the genre’s coat has been on a shoogly nail for ages. You can tell that with all the chopping and changing that has been going on, such as when Channel 4 sold Quiz Call (I bet they’re mighty glad they sold it now!) and the musical chairs involving Ftn’s, Channel Five’s and even ITV’s quiz slots.

ITV Play only makes money on its late-night ITV1 slot and apparently often made a loss during the day. The channel probably would have closed anyway — it’s just that now was a convenient time to close it.

With this controversy, programmes like the relatively innocuous Richard & Judy are being castigated, while the actually evil Make Your Play has technically been given the all-clear.

I mean, at least the competitions on Richard & Judy and the like have well-defined rules and everybody gets pretty much what is expected. On the quiz channels, on the other hand, callers are taken arbitrarily (even during ‘speed rounds’, even when the presenters are promising that they are taking “as many calls as they can”).

The questions are vaguely-defined such as the tower guessing games (where is the skill in that?, as a couple of Resonance FM presenters might say) or the downright deceitful ‘add the numbers / pennies / circles / whatever’ games. And they never tell you how they get to the answers. These are the real premium rate scams, but somehow everybody is now focussing on charity-funding competitions for children.

Finally, a big thumbs down goes to Icstis, the so-called regulatory body for premium rate phone lines. That is has taken this media bandwagon to finally get Icstis to levitate their big arse over problems that are in some cases several months old is shocking. The shouldn’t have to wait for the media to do their job for them.

Notably, The Hits has ditched its frankly diabolical Cash Call slot. Apparently this programme was actually beamed from Hungary (and the programme was often fronted by presenters whose grip of English wasn’t too great). Quite fishy.

Anyway, enjoy this clip of it on YouTube. As you can see, it is deceptively boring — a good cure for insomnia at that time of night perhaps? On the other hand, it is classic car-crash television, and it is fascinating just for how boring it is.

Update: Qwghlm Twitters his view:

ZOMG Blue Peter cheatery! Meanwhile, the Trident bill is going through the House…

Quizmania in the early days My views on quiz channels are fairly well documented on this blog. But among the shameless scammers and gormless presenters there was one clear ‘least worst’ phone-in quiz programme — Quizmania. And it’s been axed. The final programme is on tomorrow at 10pm.

What does it say that the one quiz programme that seemed to care a little bit about its viewers and paying contestants is the one that had to be dumped by ITV? Most quiz channels part viewers with their cash by setting puzzles that look easy, but are actually extremely difficult. Difficult because they never tell you the method of getting the answer.

Add the numbers is a notorious example. It is said that producers sometimes decide to count hidden Roman numerals in a piece of text as numbers! Count the pennies is another one. You really might as well just pick a random number, which is what many callers undoubtedly do. Ofcom regulations say that games must involve skill and not luck. Luck would make it a lottery and the quiz channel would have to give much of its taking to charity. Quizmania was different. It never got any worse than the relatively innocuous “tower” games.

But that wasn’t the reason I liked Quizmania. The reason was that Quizmania was genuinely entertaining. Due to the nature of the genre, quiz television is probably the closest television comes to the style of presenting more common on radio. By necessity, you get to know a presenter’s on-screen persona pretty well. This helps if a presenter actually has a personality.

Most quiz channels are fronted by totally gormless presenters who have nothing to say. It is more like World Championship Stare-Out than a phone-in quiz.

Quizmania, on the other hand, has the amazing Greg Scott (warning: link contains music that automatically plays!). What a guy. Scary inside-out knowledge of gameshows. Here is ten minutes of him in action:

Flash in action! Part of what made Quizmania amazing was the way the crew got involved as well. Other programmes may try to involve the crew, but they will never do it as well as Quizmania has done it. Flash is incredible! Who knew that a camera operator could be so entertaining?!

When the rockstar in waiting was allegedly banned from appearing on camera he got around the ban by holding cardboard cutouts and doing hilarious impressions of Morgan Freeman (“I played God!”) and Paul McCartney. Flash ought to have his own programme really.

This week probably hasn’t been a pleasant one for the Quizmania crew, as one by one the regular presenters have done their last shows. It is clear that everybody involved in the show genuinely loved working on Quizmania. Poor Lee Baldry was in tears.

Meanwhile, Make Your Play, which is what has replaced Quizmania on ITV1, is an utterly characterless programme. It reminds you that at its heart, quiz television is all about making money from callers; not keeping viewers entertained. Quizmania was a gem because it did both — and it wasn’t as deceitful at parting viewers with cash as many other quiz programmes are.

Don’t forget that Quizmania is the programme that was so successful for ITV1 that it led to the launch of ITV Play. It feels like an injustice. There will be many who think that Quizmania should not be forgiven for being part of the phone-in quiz disease that’s ruined late-night television over the past couple of years. But I think it should be applauded for making an otherwise dire format fun.

Luckily, many of Quizmania’s best moments have been immortalised on YouTube forever, and I present a mini Quizmania YouTube extravaganza below the fold. Unfortunately, many of my favourite moments of the past year and a bit aren’t on YouTube, but I’ve done the best I can.

Click for more »

I’ve taken the piss out of the late-night television programmes for losers with not enough sex, ITV Playdate and SmileTV / Party People on this blog. For more on these nocturnal televisual travesties, read phucker’s take on: ITV Playdate; Party People.

Because I tend to stay up late and, frankly, I am a loser with not enough sex, I sometimes flick past these programmes, as terrible as they are. I’m starting to wonder if they are not elaborate projects devised by twisted comedy genii.

Last night’s edition of Playdate had a classic participant last night. She was 29 years old and her profile boasted that she has an 18 year old child! That exclamation mark isn’t mine — her profile actually said, “She has an 18 year old child!” as if it was bloody brilliant. But if, like me, you have done your maths you will have worked out that she was eleven years old when she gave birth. Attractive! How do I get in touch?!

Judging by her behaviour on the programme, her courting skills probably haven’t improved since she was 11. Her legs were permanently wide open. One of the other participants noted, “I think I’ve seen her crotch more often than I’ve seen mine.” The presenter had to literally force her legs shut!

Part of the Playdate format is that the participants will often have a bit of a chat with the presenter so that you get to know a bit about them. Unfortunately, there wasn’t an awful lot to know about the open-legged participant.

“What do you like doing?”, asked the presenter.
“I dunno… I like havin’ sex,” she replied, suggestively sucking her third Chuppa Chup.
“Okay, so what kind of guy are you looking for?”, the presenter pressed.
“Dunno… Actually, I like the look of Lee over there.” She pointed at one of the other participants, who was probably shitting about half his weight with fear. This relationship was never going to be helped by the fact that Lee is “looking for a man tonight.” (Was that the truth or just quick thinking?)
But that didn’t deter our pre-teen pregnancy champion. “Come over ’ere an’ play with mah fanny.”

That’s not the way to charm a man. It’s no wonder she is resorting to going on television to advertise her undoubtedly flappy flange. That chat-up line probably hasn’t worked with anybody above the age of about 15. Unsurprisingly, her microphone was turned off after that incident. Remarkably, she wasn’t hauled off air completely.

That wasn’t embarrassing enough though, so I switched over to Party People. The format is more straightforward: weirdos send their texts in as council estate munters witter on while trying to show a bit of shoulder. It’s a world where the producers and right-hand men of the programme are all called Partyboy. A typical text is: “Partyboy tickle her feet for AT LEAST TEN SECONDS.”

Not tonight. That simply isn’t weird enough. One text read: “Do either of you ladies need a poo?” He should have visited this blog instead.

Another text said, “My boyfriend wants to watch me go to the toilet but I’m worried that I’ll fart. What should I do?” To which the presenter said, “You can tell that text is from a bloke can’t you?”

ITV’s latest late-night money-making programme is such a massive pile of arse powder that it has to be seen to be believed. I think they are sensing that the tide is turning against quiz television. The regulators will have caught up soon enough. So now they have set up a dating service called ITV Playdate.

Somehow, ITV manage to find up to a dozen people who are shameless enough to sit in a studio with laptops connecting them up to anybody who wants to phone or text them up. For £1 per go, naturally.

As you would expect on a dating show, the participants probably haven’t scored in an age and are fairly desperate. I guess you would have to be prepared to appear on national television basically saying, “I can’t get a partner any other way than by advertising this very fact on television.”

Most of them are your typical socially awkward types. Some of them are just all-out dickwads though. One ‘DJ’ who appeared on the programme seemed to genuinely think he was Goldie. He had more chains than he had teeth. He actually used ‘Bo!’ as a greeting without a hint of irony.

These people obviously never get any callers. They often cite “technical problems”. Yeah right. Something tells me the socially awkward one who’s hiding behind his hair has no problems working his computer at home.

And then sitting centre stage is the attractive young woman who has received twenty calls in the past hour. Some of the callers have gone “a bit too far” apparently. Yuk! ITV, do you see what you have done?!

This might not be at the level of Party People or the various other babestation channels which basically consist of dirty men asking for extreme closeups of the girls’ feet. But at least those channels don’t pretend otherwise. ITV Playdate acts as though it’s a classy programme, but it is not.

Now phucker has alerted us to the contents of the ITV Playdate website. And this is where the last remaining vestiges of good taste are thrown out of the top floor window, kicked around, stamped on, shat on and something elsed on that I really don’t want to say!

Presenter Brendan Courtney is aged “22 (and a bit … and the bit is my own business)”. That’s a joke already. The bit looks as though it’s at least twenty. But just wait until you see what he lists as his favourite scent.

Favourite scent: Old Spice, Bukkake.

What the fuck?! Bukkake?!? Does he even know what it is? Which wise guy at ITV thought that it would be okay to put this on the website? Aaargh!

I’ve heard this on Radio Five Live’s bulletins at 1 o’clock and 2 o’clock, but strangely I haven’t found any mention of this on the internet at all.

The offices of Big Game TV have been raided. Apparently it is alleged that at certain times callers had no chance of getting through. I am shocked.

I am surprised, though, that Big Game TV is the first one to be investigated. On-screen it doesn’t seem like one of the scammiest channels — just one of the most boring.

ITV Play logo Most might not bat an eyelid if a small Sky channel is investigated, but what could be interesting about this is that ITV have their fingers in the Big Game TV pie. When ITV first started experimenting with participation TV on ITV3 and ITV2 it was simulcasting Big Game TV. Now Big Game TV makes The Daily Quiz, which is broadcast on Men & Motors and ITV Play.

Quiz channels, or ‘participation TV’ as the broadcasters prefer to call it, are a little bit of a hobby horse of this blog. The channels like to set impossible puzzles and they never explain the solutions. Essentially this turns the whole process into a lottery, as callers end up guessing a random number. Callers pay 60p or £1 per entry, and every so often somebody wins £50 or something.

ITV Play’s participation TV programming is said to make £2m per month. Goodness knows how much the others must be making then, because ITV’s programmes usually seem the most respectable of all of them (although I have noticed while flicking through that The Mint is beginning to set those ridiculous ‘add the numbers’ games).

Here is an interesting discussion about Grab a Grand, a programme on Sky digital which recently set up a channel, SmileTV, on Freeview. According to the DS forummers, Grab a Grand staff members are blatantly phoning up their own channel with wrong answers. And there is Who needs shopping channels? on this blog, which had some interesting comments before it got swamped by idiots who wanted to sling mud around…

If anything happens as a result of the raid, you can bet that quiz channels will find a way round it. When AuctionWorld was closed a couple of years ago for displaying grossly inflated ‘guide prices’, the other shopping channels merely replaced their ‘guide prices’ with ‘start prices’.

Update: Finally, I can bring you a link. But it’s of a radio programme! Come on internet, you’re meant to be the future! (Via TV Forum.)

Update (20/05/2006): The Daily Quiz has been replaced by This Morning Puzzle Book on ITV Play today (This Morning at 6pm!).

Also, according to Sascha on this thread, The Mint makes £100,000 per night!

Update (21/05/2006): Sascha at TV Forum again:

The overnight quiz game on The Hits, Smash Hits etc. music channels, is actually broadcast from a scruffy building in Budapest, Hungary. It’s beamed into the UK via a very dubious company which also makes pornographic videos for the eastern European market.

If that’s true it is very strange. I always thought that those programmes looked particularly weird…

ITV Play slinky ident
ITV Play barker
Images nicked off Andrew Wood at TV Forum
Another ‘Participation TV’ channel (i.e. scheming, conning, shite shite quiz channel) launches this week. ITV Play is replacing Men & Motors on Freeview. All I can say is:

  1. at least Men & Motors isn’t much of a loss
  2. at least it will have Quizmania on it
  3. at least it has really pretty idents!

People who have read this blog for a long time may know that I am interested in all of this television presentation nonsense. When I was a wee nipper, I found ITV regions fascinating. I just did, don’t ask me why. It was probably just the shiny logos.

It wasn’t only television logos either. Apparently my first word was ‘gas’. According to my parents I often pointed at the logo on the gas van and shouted ‘GAS’. I guess it’s one way to learn how to read.

If a station relaunched with a new set of idents, I’d usually end up watching the channel all day just to take it in. Sad or what? Imagine my delight when I discovered a few years ago, through the wonder of the internet, that I wasn’t the only one.

Anyway, when I was younger, some idents really scared the crap out of me. I remember a particular Channel 4 ident that was used to introduce its American Football programmes. It always made me jump because the ‘4’ figure made a loud grunt. Numbers don’t grunt! I can remember actually having nightmares about it.

ITV Schools ident But the scariest ident of them all was surely the rotating ITV Schools one. I’m not too sure why I was so frightened by it, but it seriously gave me the willies. I remember once actually running through to tell my mum when I managed to sit through it!

Maybe I was worried that the rather hefty-looking ITV logos would spin off course and hit me. Perhaps I couldn’t comprehend the advanced computer graphics. Everybody knows that CGI dates horribly. But despite the fact that the ITV Schools ident is almost twenty years old, I think they still look amazingly good even judging by today’s standards.

There is an excellent feature on TV ARK all about the making of this ident. It sounds like it was a truly massive task. It’s amazing to think that they would go to so much bother just to create a way to introduce some television programmes!

When I was six, the spinning ITV Schools ident and ITV Schools itself was gone forever. So I wouldn’t have to be scared by the evil ident, right? Well imagine my shock when (at the tender age of six, remember) the brand new Channel 4 Schools ident ended up being this freaky thing. The spooky countdown music (which I now actually think is pretty cool) sounded like an accompaniment to a drowning. This is music for introducing schools programmes! Did they not realise that children would be watching?!