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Ofcom clears way for iPhone apps for TV voting

Numbers just too much for X Factor fans

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Ofcom has cleared the way for iPhone voting applications for TV.

Voting through specially-formatted text messages, or calls to sequential numbers, could soon be a thing of the past as the regulator has finally clarified the rules on applications that allow one to vote, and pay, though an application installed on the phone.

Text voting is an important revenue stream for some of the most popular TV shows today, and that's despite the complexity of the voting process that's crying out for simplification with an app running on the phone. But the complexity of the rules, which were drafted before mobile applications took off, has discouraged any development in that direction.

Basically Ofcom has said that voting apps are OK, as long as viewers are warned about the cost. The app can't add features either; everything must be possible without the app to avoid it turning into an advert for a specific platform, something Nokia will have to take on board when it considers adding voting to its (Symbian-only) X Factor application.

But in-app voting is a blindingly obvious development, which would have arrived years ago if the premium-rate industry wasn't still reeling from the scandals of 2007. Back then it emerged that votes submitted through different channels were being treated differently, sometimes even ignored completely, not to mention the times that viewers were invited to vote during repeated shows. Unsurprisingly Ofcom is adamant that votes submitted through mobile applications are treated identically to any other.

Technically the process is trivial - all the popular platforms (including the iPhone) can send an SMS from within an application, allowing the developer to present pictures of, say, The X Factor finalists and inviting viewers to tap on the face they love the most. A warning might pop up, but that's a minor thing compared to the complexity of sending a specially-formatted text message, or sending a message to a finalist-specific number - something that's beyond a surprising number of viewers*.

The development is a small one, but the impact will be great, and it will be interesting to see what difference it makes to next year's X Factor. ®

* Most memorable was the text message submitted to Big Brother when O2 was sponsor, which threw the automated system for some reason: "I wnt to keep in the girl with the big tits" - clearly the work of someone who would benefit from a tap-to-vote application.

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