Well, we all knew it was coming, but ICSTIS has confirmed that it has fined Opera Telecom £250,000 after four years of the Company selecting winners early for competitions on GMTV. In practice, at least from May 2005, this meant that whilst the phone lines were open from 6am to 9am, with the winner announced at 9.25am, Opera had selected ‘finalists’ by 8am. This meant that over half the calls for competitions were usually received in the final hour, but none of these calls ever had a chance of winning.
According to ICSTIS this means 18.6 million callers has no chance of winning over 4 years. What this meant in financial terms was , if February 2006 is used as an example, that £762,935.87 in revenue was generated in a month by calls that could not win.
If the phone lines got too busy, calls were bumped over to BT’s RIDE platform, and no calls handle by this system ever had a chance of winning either. Worse still, for eight days in February this year technical problems meant phone entries could not be registered, however Opera failed to tell GMTV or viewers this infomation.
The funniest bit of the adjudication came from Opera’s largest shareholder and sole Companies Act director, Gary Corbett. He told the hearing that he hadn’t seen an email that was copied to him and others where Mark Nuttal, Opera’s Sales Director responded toa n email from the GMTV Support Supervisor with the commented “Make sure they never find out that you’re picking the winners early!!!!” The Panel gives him the benefit of the doubt but remained unconvinced by Mr Corbett’s claim that he would have ‘stamped on’ the email if he had read it.
The picture formed by the actions of the company was that “the prevailing culture was that Opera’s corporate clients’ interests were put first, and that there was little or no consideration of the interests of consumers”
Opera’s hope that their cooperation with the investigation would save them from a fine and other sanction were also swept aside with ICSTIS hinting were they not limited to a maximum of £250,000 per code breach that a higher figure could have been justified.
It also felt that due to the ‘systemic’ failures within the company – and that Opera has not exactly been a stranger to ICSTIS adjudications and fines for other code breaches – that Opera not be allowed to continue operating premium-rate services without taking further steps. The panel has decided to impose a bar on operating competition services for one year, but that this bar will be suspended on the following conditions:
(a) That Opera commissions a report from an independent consultancy firm into its procedures and management structure;
(b) That this firm be of high recognised standing, and that its identity is pre-approved by ICSTIS;
(c) That the consultant be instructed to evaluate the compliance culture, policies and corporate governance of Opera in relation to all present and proposed premium-rate activity, and to report on any recommended changes;
(d) That the consultant’s precise terms of reference be pre-approved by ICSTIS;
(e) That Opera undertakes to comply in full with the recommendations of this report, subject to any express exemptions or modifications agreed with ICSTIS;
(f) That the consultant’s report be provided to ICSTIS within two months of this adjudication being released, and that any recommended changes be implemented within one further month (or such other period as may be agreed with ICSTIS).
These conditions have been put in place because ICSTIS remains unconvinced that they have a compliance regime and management procedures in place to prevent future code breaches.
Opera certainly feel hard done by, but reading the adjudication and looking at their past compliance record it is harder not to think that they have gotten off quite lightly.
All eyes now turn to Ofcom and GMTV. Most expect GMTV to also get hit with a three figure fine when Ofcom eventually delivers its decision against it.
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