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June 18, 2007

Deal or No Deal: Surprise Texting Charges

Filed under: Sweepstakes,Telephone — Edgar (aka MrConsumer) @ 5:54 am

Deal or No Deal smallDeal or No Deal is a big TV hit, but the millions of viewers who play their weekly “Lucky Case Game” may not be aware of all the charges associated it.

Four times during each program viewers are urged to grab their cellphones and text the number of the case (one through six) that has $10,000 or $20,000 hidden in it. One winner will be chosen by the end of the program from all those who guess the correct numbered case, and that person gets the cash prize.

*MOUSE PRINT:

“$.99 per text msg plus standard text messaging charges.Go to nbc.com/DOND to enter for free…”

Most people cannot read that disclosure because of its small size and the limited time it appears on the screen. So wouldn’t an oral disclosure of the price make sense and be fair? This show makes no such oral disclosure of the price in two out of the four times it promotes the sweepstakes.

In addition, there are additional charges that may wind up on your cell bill that are not disclosed during the TV program at all, and are only revealed in the official rules on the NBC website:

*MOUSE PRINT: 

“In addition, a premium text message charge of $.99 will apply to all text messages sent and received in connection with the Promotion. This charge will be billed on your wireless phone bill or deducted from your prepaid balance. You will receive a “thank you” text message that night including a DEAL OR NO DEAL Insider message. This message provides additional information about the Show, its host and/or products. The following day, you will receive a text message giving you the ability to opt-in to an SMS-based message program keeping you up to date on the latest cool Show information and more. You may stop receiving text messages at any time by responding “end”, “stop” or “quit” to any of the messages.”

So in addition to the 99¢ premium charge, your cell company will bill you for three separate text messages. The latter two are most likely promotional messages related to the show. For those without an unlimited texting plan, sending that one original text message will wind up costing anywhere from $1.14 to $1.44 (plus tax) depending on the price you are charged by your cell provider for text messaging. One can only hope that the 99¢ charge does not apply to each message “sent and received.” 

The public is spending a fortune on TV voting and games promotions. In fact, about $17 million was raked in by NBC on the Deal or No Deal “Lucky Case Game” just in the first three months of 2007. That one game accounts for nearly half the money spent in the US on all such premium texting promotions. [See story.]

But isn’t the Deal or No Deal game and other similar promotions tantamount to gambling?  You are paying a price for the chance of a prize, which is the definition of a “lottery” in most states, and most private companies are not allowed to conduct lotteries. Promotions like this are generally not considered lotteries if they offer a “no purchase necessary” means of playing the game. NBC does that, but in MrConsumer’s view, offering to play the game for free only via the Internet fails as a viable alternate means because one in four households do not have Internet access (and their only way to play is to pay via cellphone).

A similar text messaging promotion is currently being challenged in court in Georgia by a plaintiff who is claiming that the game on NBC’s Apprentice, “Get Rich with Trump” constituted an illegal lottery, even though it had a “no purchase necessary” means of entry. (See previous Mouse Print posting, and this newsletter [pdf].) 

Is it any surprise, then, that NBC now says their Deal or No Deal game is not open to residents of Georgia? 

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8 Comments

  1. Just a few weeks ago, BBC’s “Panorama” program covered similar scams being perpetrated on the British public, but in what seems to be a larger scale: Sleazy practices of late-night call-in/text-in “quiz” programs (including making questions and puzzles unwinnable), contest entry cutoff long before the official deadline on a top morning program(in every contest, thousands continued to call — and pay — with no chance of winning), faked “live” call-ins during shows, and, in one case, a fake winner chosen out of a live studio audience and brought backstage to stage a winning call, done out of desperation when a technical glitch prevented actual callers from getting through.

    I fully expect American TV production companies will eventually see this program, rub their collective chins, and murmur, “Sa-ay….” They’ll know they can get away with all of it for at least a while, and that will be enough to get their greed throbbing.

    News story on the “Panorama” program here: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/programmes/panorama/6583111.stm

    Comment by Mike Harney — June 17, 2007 @ 10:49 pm
  2. Well, don’t expect this to go away. In Europe this is standard practice with virtually all reality tv shows. They charge up to 2 bucks per vote, and in the smaller countries, the txt revenue gets in the same range as the commercial revenue. Luckily, European consumer laws are generally very clear on the fact that ‘vendors’ of entertainment txt services must state their price clearly. Other restrictions must be stated clearly too, and that more or less prohibits programs for hanging too many restrictions to the txting, since it would really hurt the flow of the program when you have to clearly state the rules everytime you ask people to vote.

    Comment by Jasper — June 18, 2007 @ 9:02 am
  3. GSN’s playmania / quiznation does same type of thing at least they tell you what it costs and you can read as well.

    Comment by Joe B — June 18, 2007 @ 2:41 pm
  4. But what is the number of households that do not have cellphones? I would guess that the number of households without internet and the number of households without internet is roughly similar.

    Comment by Kelly — June 20, 2007 @ 10:11 am
  5. This is another one where it’s a case of “don’t text to numbers you see on tv that contain fine print.”

    Also, in Nico’s view, offering to play the game for free only via the Internet is a viable alternate means.

    Want a 1-800 number to call? Pfft. 1-800 numbers COST money, so that went the way of the “Who Wants to be a Millionaire?” contest. Also note that these contests are a way to force viewers to watch the show in real time, not time-shifting TiVo. This guarantees the advertisers more viewers.

    Comment by Nico — October 23, 2007 @ 2:32 am
  6. Plain and simple – never respond to these scams. Same as so many others. But unfortunately there are always the fools and their money so easily parted.

    Comment by Mark J Smith — November 28, 2007 @ 10:32 pm
  7. I have a question. I text with a pre-paid Tracfone. I always get a reply saying thanks for my entry, but I always wonder if it counts, because I’m not being charged the $1 entry fee. Does anyone know? Am I just wasting my texts? Thanks.

    Edgar replies: Jen, if you normally get charged for incoming text messages, you are most likely charged for their thank you message. The easiest way to tell is to check your balance before sending the text message, and then again after you get the thank you.

    Comment by Jen — January 17, 2008 @ 8:13 pm
  8. “I have a question. I text with a pre-paid Tracfone. I always get a reply saying thanks for my entry, but I always wonder if it counts, because I’m not being charged the $1 entry fee. Does anyone know? Am I just wasting my texts? Thanks.

    Edgar replies: Jen, if you normally get charged for incoming text messages, you are most likely charged for their thank you message. The easiest way to tell is to check your balance before sending the text message, and then again after you get the thank you.”

    Premium Text Messaging rates don’t seem to apply to Tracfone (I have one as well). Every text message is 0.3 units regardless of the type of text message – Twitter’s ‘40404’ is classified as a Premium Text Messaging service and I get deducted the same number of units as a regular text. I suspect AT&T (Tracfone’s primary carrier) eats the entire cost of premium texts on Tracfone. I suppose if people start abusing this functionality, Tracfone/AT&T would make premium texting vanish real fast. It does have the advantage of sending $10 to the Red Cross for relief efforts in Japan for about 35 cents (roughly the cost of a single text message on Tracfone).

    Comment by Edgar Jr — April 15, 2011 @ 7:36 pm

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