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'Bingo' card filling up as format catches on

Britain's public health minister, Dawn Primarolo, should expect some roses, champagne and a thank-you note from L.A.-based reality TV producer Andrew Glassman. Britain's new ban on public smoking is likely to prove a lucrative windfall for Glassman, whose bingo-based ABC game show "National Bingo Night" is being eyed by British broadcasters. It's predicted that Britain's "no smoking" signs will drive many smoking bingo players from the big public halls to the privacy of their homes — and of course to Glassman's TV and interactive version of the game. At least that's Glassman's theory.

The play-at-home interactive bingo show format is starting to sell around the world, with Australia's Seven Network the first overseas broadcaster to go into production with the format, Glassman says. Twentieth Century Fox TV Distribution is handling worldwide licensing.

Glassman, whose production credits also include "Average Joe," says that when creating the format, he had it in mind that, in England, "more people attend bingo halls than football matches … so there's a great audience out there of people who already love the game of bingo."

He developed the show with just such a worldwide audience in mind. "It's a simple game played in every language and in every culture, so I think it has great international appeal and potential for a global format."

He admits that the ratings on ABC are far from red-hot, but the interactive traffic created by the game has been enormous. And that's something that broadcasters all over the world are looking to build. "The interactive element saw nearly 25 million (bingo card) prints occurring (in viewer homes), bringing ABC.com to the No. 1 slot. It brought an estimated 14 million new unique visitors to the network site. That's making broadcasters all over the world take notice."

Of course the interactive element also brought the show's sponsors into the homes of the bingo-playing audience, he adds. "The sponsor's name is there when the player prints out the bingo card. It's there in many different ways because of the interactive element, and so the sponsor is truly integrated in a new way in front of a massive amount of eyeballs."

That indeed is something that broadcasters around the world are looking to find as they take on the same challenges the networks face in the U.S., such as the use of DVRs to skip through commercials, TV viewers spending more time on home computers, and audience fragmentation caused by squadrons of new broadcast outlets raising their shingles.

But broadcasters are also now extremely wary of anything interactive that involves phone payments from viewers. The "call-in" scandal in the U.K. sent a cold wind through the industry after heretofore squeaky-clean broadcasters admitted to various offenses involving call-in fees — including taking callers' money after a TV competition had closed.

Glassman says his bingo show is unlikely to be impacted by that as it does not involve money actually being paid in by the viewer. "It's a game in which the broadcaster pays the viewer, not the other way around."

Audiences have a comfort level from knowing that the bingo card they download onto their computer and print out at home has a unique identification number and that the entire process has "many checks and balances." He does say however that if some broadcasters do wish to alter the format and ask the consumer for money to participate then — if that complies with the laws and regulations of that territory — he would not oppose the idea. But he thinks that scenario is unlikely in view of the wariness of broadcasters and producers about the call-in genre. The BBC has taken all its call-in pay shows off the air.
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