Ringing some changes on phone numbers
The UK’s broadcast and communications regulator Ofcom is in the final stretch of a wide-ranging consultation over phone number pricing.
This is highly relevant to radio for two reasons. Firstly, the amount of phone traffic our stations drive to ourselves and our advertisers and, second, because it affects the ease at which we can promote phone numbers on air.
“Calls from a BT landline cost 38 pence per minute off peak, 45 pence per minute at all other times. Prices from other networks may vary and calls from mobiles may cost considerably more”
…does not great radio make.
Here’s what you need to know about the proposals:
Free calls will be free
Up to now they’ve only been free from landlines, not most mobiles (although Orange had honoured them). Ofcom proposes that all 0800, 0808 and 116 numbers will be free from any phone.
The BBC’s radio “helplines” sit behind 0800 numbers and services like these are likely to cost more to run once the mobile termination costs are passed to the service provider, not the caller.
They will be easier to promote on air though and will be a better way to build trust with audiences once they’re genuinely free to everybody and can be described as such.
‘Normal’ priced numbers will be easier to spot
The proposal is that only calls to 03 numbers will, in future, be charged on the same tariff as geographic calls to numbers starting 01 and 02 (the ones we use to
pretend we’re local underpin our presence in local communities). Calls to 03 numbers are included in mobile and landline free minutes for subscribers who opt for such packages.
All this ought to raise awareness and trust in 03 as a ‘normal phone call’ and benefit organisations like the BBC who committed early-on to the 03 range with its 03700 numbers for national radio stations.
Service charge + access charge = cost of call
For all calls that cost more than ‘normal’, Ofcom proposes splitting out the elements that comprise the total cost. In future there will be a maximum call cost per minute which is determined by the operator of the phone service and a separate ‘access charge’ which is agreed by the consumer with their phone network when they sign a contract.
That access charge can vary between networks but is not associated with the cost of the service provided by the radio station or advertiser. This change makes promotion easier as we’ll see later.
0845 and 0870 numbers will be better for radio
The 0845 and 0870 numbers used to be known as ‘local rate’ and ‘national rate’ respectively but quietly slipped their moorings to drift into more commercial waters in recent years. 0845 and 0870 numbers generally pay for themselves but don’t generate significant incomes. Other 087 numbers can be more lucrative.
In future, all 084 numbers will cost no more than 7p per minute plus the phone company’s standard access charge and the 087 numbers will be no more than 13p per minute plus access charge.
They’ll work much better on radio because no longer will their service charges vary by network or be considerably and scarily more from a mobile.
So will 09 numbers
These are premium rate numbers regulated by the ridiculously-named PhonePayPlus and which can provide an additional revenue stream for radio stations. They’re great for competitions run on automated IVR infrastructure and pre-recorded listener contributions. In future, they too will be priced according to the “service charge” plus “access charge” model and will additionally have price caps applied to help boost consumer confidence and reduce what Ofcom calls “consumer bill shock”.
They’ll still be the most expensive type of call but, again, service charge pricing will be consistent no matter what kind of phone a consumer is calling from.
In what may be a welcome hint of coordinated thinking inside Riverside House, Ofcom has proposed a simpler way to describe call costs that works in print and, crucially for us, on the radio.
The service charge element of the call cost won’t vary by network so the on-air caveat can be greatly simplified. Ofcom suggests a radio-friendly line of copy in its consultation:
“This call will cost you x pence per minute plus your phone company’s access charge.”
An Ofcom infographic
The consultation is still open although Ofcom is pretty clear about its intentions and has stated it is “minded to” implement them within the next 18 months. They’re so committed they’ve even made an infographic of sorts.
This is all generally good news for radio because it makes promotion of our telephony services more simple and it has the potential to improve trust in differently-priced number ranges which are currently misunderstood by consumers. That in turn can help us find new revenue streams and improve engagement with listeners.
Meanwhile, friends at BBC Radio Scotland take note; remember that brilliant 0500 92 95 00 free phone-in number I organised for you back in the nineties? Ofcom has announced that its days are, er, numbered. The 0500 number range will close and all free calls will then sit behind numbers starting 080 or 116 which they say have become more famously free. I’m not so sure about 116 numbers – have you ever seen one?
Anyway, it’s due to happen in two years time (unless you have your own Scottish regulator by then).
Picture credit: Swimming In The iPool by JD Hancock.