MMA, MEF guides aim to gain viewer’s trust

RCR Wireless News
The explosive success networks are having with text voting on TV shows comes with a level of responsibility that they and others in the value chain are trying to bear.

“Now the viewer or participant has to be able to trust the show,” said Suhail Bhat, policy and initiatives director at the Mobile Entertainment Forum (MEF). “It’s different now. It’s not passive, it’s active.”

The Mobile Marketing Association and MEF have both drafted guidelines for participation-TV in the United States based on feedback from their member organizations. With two sets of guidelines now released, plenty of less-involved companies have wondered which organization takes the lead as the de facto standard in this market.

While the MEF has plenty of activity and clout with its members, the MMA’s Consumer Best Practices Guidelines, which includes a section on participation-TV, has taken the lead as the more adopted standard to follow in the United States. MEF is strong in the United Kingdom and throughout Europe whereas MMA’s guidelines have been followed by carriers in the United States since 2005.

“These guidelines are part of the contractual agreement at the carriers

between every carrier, content or aggregate provider,” MMA President Laura Marriott said. “In the United States the guidelines that MEF has produced, they’re not the guidelines followed by the operators.”

Indeed, MEF’s Code of Best Practice for Participation TV Services in the U.S. builds on its experiences in the British market and addresses the more serious inquiries broadcasters there have faced over numerous failures in the system. “We know what’s gone wrong. We understand where in the value chain things have gone wrong,” Bhat said, adding that its role in the United States is more about educating all those players before similar breakdowns occur.

“Even with the best will in the world, something can go wrong,” he said.

“For the moment, it provides education and sets up responsibilities for the companies involved,” Bhat said of the MEF’s guidelines.

“It’s about sharing and understanding that responsibility,” he said. “A lot of this, believe it or not, is getting people to talk to each other and understand their relative roles.”

While the MMA’s guidelines have more official backing in the United States, both organizations have many of the same members from this market. Rob Kramer, a spokesman for VeriSign Inc., sits on committees that develop and revise participation-TV guidelines at both organizations.

“We follow the MMA guidelines and take the MEF guidelines into account as well, but here in this market we follow the MMA guidelines,” he said. MMA has more of a North American focus, while MEF is more European centric, he added.

Indeed, there is little difference in the common thrust of both sets of rules. “General participating guidelines I think are very similar,” Kramer said. MEF’s document explains the issues other markets have faced and sets that as a framework for practices in the United States while MMA’s set focuses more on the rules that in turn are adopted by U.S. carriers.

Carrier guidelines in the United States vary state by state while the European market differs in each country. So companies are tipped toward one set of guidelines over another depending on which market they’re operating in and which set of rules have been adopted industrywide in that market.

“But that could change. Either organization could develop more of a global approach to participation TV,” Kramer said. “It’s something that we’ll probably have to address in the future between the two organizations.”

Telescope Inc., which manages interactive voting components for numerous shows, has executives sitting on committees at both MEF and MMA.

“They both have the right intention, which is instilling public trust and making sure the industry grows responsibly,” Telescope CEO Troy Sample said. “It’s a critical piece of the industry’s growth.”

The important thing is “making sure there’s some enforcement of those practices,” he said.

In the U.S., most of that responsibility falls with the carriers, Bhat said. “What matters is that somebody takes responsibility.”

The two sets of guidelines that address the U.S. market aren’t mutually exclusive, he said. “They’re not at loggerheads. They don’t compete with each other whatsoever,” Bhat added.

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