The Right Fix for Fox
Committed To The First Amendment
By Staff -- Broadcasting & Cable, 5/23/2004 8:00:00 PM
Fix the system. That would seem to be the obvious answer to Fox's American Idol phone troubles.
Conveniently last week—the same week B&C revealed the show's voting woes—Fox declared it will give viewers additional phone numbers and expand its voting window to four hours for the finale of American Idol. The goal is to ease the traffic burden of overtaxed lines. That was a good first step.
Even more should be done before the next go-round, which won't be until January. If it is within Fox's power to prevent it, there must be neither the perception nor the reality that the game can be manipulated.
Yet we were stunned by the pent-up frustration unleashed by our story. It seems millions of calls weren't getting through. Fox says the problem was local and the national network has not been taxed.
But clearly, the patience of loyal fans has been taxed, and that should be enough for the network to start taking steps to address those concerns rather than trying to shoot the messengers, text or otherwise. Viewer loyalty is hard to build and tough to maintain.
Frankly, shows that deal with real people pose real problems different from tough salary negotiations with sitcom stars. Making good reality policy is something that is imperative for all networks, given that reality has come to dominate TV schedules as never before. American Idol now touches viewers' hearts. They should not be led to believe Fox is trying to slap their intelligence.
With AT&T one of the show's sponsors, Fox needs to go out of its way to avoid the appearance that it could be in cahoots with the phone company to drive as many calls as possible, whether or not they get through.
We don't believe that is the case, but it's not about what we believe, it's about what viewers, or potentially regulators, believe. Complaints have been made to the FCC. We all know what can happen next, whether or not the claims have merit.
Fox defended the accuracy of its vote count last week and reiterated its measures to keep monitoring its system carefully. But it's still talking only about the votes that actually get through. Among things that Fox isn't doing
to make it easier to cast that ballot is, say, online voting, or limiting votes to one to a customer, although we understand both have been considered.
The issues go beyond simply frustrated dialers. The technological problems to date have resulted in charges of racism, as well as the TV game show's worst nightmare: the f-word, |or "fix."
For whatever reason, the system is sufficiently flawed to raise concerns that it could be manipulated by online gamblers or simply by technologically savvy fans. Fox needs to go those extra few miles to make sure that doesn't happen.
To us, that seems like an easy call.
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