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Big Brother: Little Print*

big bro1 smallNothing is more popular these days with young people than “texting” — sending a text message via a cellphone. Capitalizing on this trend, most reality shows on television have built in this kind of interactivity into their programs. American Idol popularized “text voting” for your favorite singer,  and millions of people participated for free (except for whatever usual charge your cell company imposes for sending a text message — typically 10 cents).

Other reality shows have jumped on the bandwagon, but have turned texting into a money making machine for the networks and the program. Take CBS’ Big Brother, for example. The ad above has been running on each episode of the show over the past couple of months, inviting people to text the word “FAN” to 99888. Those who do are promised pictures of the cast, ringtones, and alerts about the show. Does being a “fan” cost anything?

*MOUSE PRINT: “$5.99 per month subscription fee billed through your wireless phone bill.”

There is no oral disclosure of the price during the commercial, and as you can see, even magnified, the mouse print price disclosure is almost unreadable. CBS does notify you when you make the call that there is a charge, but funny how clear disclosure is missing from the ad itself.

Had CBS been using a 900 number as the means of triggering this information service, federal law would have required oral price disclosure in the commercial. But, the 900 number rules were written before the advent of pay-per-call services triggered by text messaging, and thus CBS’ non-oral-disclosure falls through the cracks.

big bro2 smallIn addition to the “FAN” commercial, Big Brother also supers on the screen this other invitation to part with $5.99 a month, twice during each show. There is no price disclosure oral or written, but viewers are invited to go to the Internet “for terms.”

Though the net is widespread, not everyone has access to it, and while some people mulitask, most folks watching television are not sitting in front of their computers at the same time. Thus, disclosure of the price is again masked.

If the networks can’t make reasonable and clear disclosure of the price of text games and text services, the Federal Trade Commission needs to step in to update its pay per call rules to include this now pervasive form of advertising of pay services.


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11 thoughts on “Big Brother: Little Print*”

  1. This is nothing more than theft if they take money from people and do not disclose exactly what it will cost them. What happened to the days of good ole’ honest buying and selling? I am so tired of rebates, false advertising, disclaimers with hidden costs. My Dad sold to the public for more than 30 years and he allways told me “I would rather be honest and be able to sleep at night”.

  2. This is not surprising coming from CBS “Communist Broadcasting Service”.
    Like all communists, the people are merely sheep to be lead to slaughter, as those in charge always know what is best for the peon subjects.

  3. There is an ad that runs at night claiming to have women “text your phone” by just texting something like “IMALOSER” to 1312879.

    The fine print on the screen says that they will charge your phone bill $9.99 a month, AND $1.99 for every text message RECEIVED by one of their “ladies”. Whats to stop them from setting up a program to blast you with text messages from “ladies” 24 hours a day?

  4. And who understands their cell phone bill well enough to realize what the extra charges are for? It could take ages (and $100’s) to figure it out and cancel the service!!

  5. NASCAR and Cingular do the same thing. During the race they have these
    vote for whatever things like virtual crew chief. I did it once and
    every week after got text messages from them and it got annoying. Then when I
    got the phone bill there was a $10 charge for the service.

  6. I think it’s really interesting that the toilet paper discussion had 52 comments and this has only seven. Does the target customer for this just not care that they are being charged?

  7. Mike, don’t you mean “just read the print on the screen”, memorize a the URL, then fire up your computer, connect to the Internet (for dial-up users), fire up your web browser, enter the URL and read the terms “before you start texting things randomly” ?

    At least for the in-show ads for this.

  8. WORSE, sometimes if you get a phone number that was previously used for this purpose with a new phone, you may still get some of these messages sent to you

  9. The trigger or initiating word to be sent should only be available at a web-site and next to the cost of the service.

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