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Numbers for Television

When most people think about 900 numbers for television, they usually think about those ads with girls in hot tubs that have been seen on American television since 1987. This is true despite the fact that AT&T and MCI have not allowed adult entertainment on 900 numbers for many years. The fact is it was television that actually made 900 numbers a reality in the first place. 900 numbers were first used on television when ABC wanted a way to gauge public opinion of who won the 1980 presidential debate between President Jimmy Carter and then Governor Ronald Reagan. Viewers chose the Californian and both a new presidency and a new technology were launched.

Years later, those zanies from Saturday Night Live got in the television 900 number act as well. Host Eddie Murphy polled the viewing audience on whether to boil Larry the Lobster or spare its life. The sympathetic viewers chose to spare the crustacean, but Murphy boiled Larry anyway. Today, interactive text messaging is the newest rage for polling television audiences. It's quick, easy, and the viewer doesn't even have to get up from the couch to dial like in the 900 number days. Moreover, text messaging can be either standard rate (free to the television viewer) or premium rate (where the viewer pays a fee to participate).

Hence, text messaging can be become a new profit center for the television station. But, clearly there's still a place for the use of a 900 number in conjunction with a television audience participation event. If the December ABC's Wide World of Sports is any indication, television viewers still like the ease of participating via a 900 number. ABC's Marshall's Figure Skating Challenge allowed viewers a chance to vote for the best male and female figure skater during the two hour show. Viewers were permitted to vote for free online or pay 75 cents to vote via a 900 number or via text message.

Viewers cast over 105,000 votes during the event. The free online version garnered the most votes, but only slightly ahead of the 900 number. Text messaging was a distant third. "We were surprised the 900 number did so well, quite frankly," said Brad Bierman, of Advanced Telecom Services--the service bureau that handled the 900 number voting application. "It shows television audiences still like the convenience of participating by 900 numbers.

The amazing thing is that the 900 number got almost as many votes as the free online voting did." Clearly, the successful use of the 900 number in the figure skating challenge emphasizes that 900 numbers still have a place in television broadcasts. It makes one wonder why television doesn't use 900 numbers more often. Maybe it's those girls in hot tubs that still linger in the minds of television executives.

Bob Bentz is the editor of the Text Message Blog. He has also been involved in the 900 number industry for 18 years.

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