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Ideas and technique to help you promote and image radio

Fairness in competitions

A recent Ofcom investigation offers good advice for any of us in the UK who run a simple text-and-win competition mechanic.

A little background from the Ofcom Code:

The regulator requires that competitions should be conducted fairly and the competition rules are clear and shared with the audience.

Yet, they found that wasn’t the case on an occasion when Sarah Jane Crawford invited competition entries to “Sarah Jane’s Split Second Song” on the Hits Radio Network. Here’s her set-up as transcribed by Ofcom…

Basically, I play a split second of a song and if you think you know what the song is…then you win tickets to see Justin Timberlake, OK?…Now, last night, Tina guessed incorrectly. She thought the song was ‘Sexy Back’. She thought we’d put actual Justin Timberlake in the clip. We might have done, but it was not ‘Sexy Back’. So tonight, my clip gets a little bit longer, and here it is: [Brief music clip] so, if you think you know what the answer is, all you need to do is text, “SJ”, then your name, to [text short code]. It’s “SJ” on your phone, then your name, and send it to [text short code]. We will have a little look, give you a call and if you are on the air you could be playing for Justin Timberlake tickets, next”.

The point at which they “had a little look” and chose a listener to call was two minutes after soliciting texts. However, four other entries came in after this moment and therefore were not considered. It’s this point which leads to the question of unfairness.

Hits Radio operator Bauer Media agreed it would have been clearer to describe the 2 minute entry window on-air but also made points that have long been true in radio:

it is standard industry practice for competitions of this nature to select an entrant and take them live to air without an explicit start and end time to the competition being read out on air… the selected entrant is taken to air immediately, without delay, and so it is clearly communicated to listeners whether or not the competition is still open”.

Recognising the professional conduct of the station and with a nod to decades of custom and practice Ofcom took a helpful line and the matter was resolved without sanction.

For the rest of us, the incident provides a little added clarity about what constitutes fairness in Ofcom’s mind and some suggestions of best practice:


1. Include specific terms and conditions for this particular type of competition, including the limited time window you adopt, on your website.

2. Tell listeners on air that they only have a limited time to enter and flag exactly when that time starts and ends. Just like XFactor voting.

3. Do as you say: ignore any entries which are sent before and after the window. If your first choice listener can’t go through for whatever reason, make sure any back-up listeners are also chosen from within the time window.

This is not an unnecessary burden: with the right words you can use this requirement to crank-up the excitement and increase the number of entries.

It is also one more reason to ensure that all competition mechanics have scripted set-ups and that your talent is coached on exactly how to execute them on air.