American Idol text message votes from non-Cingular phones are not counted

That Cingular Wireless is a sponsor of American Idol is no surprise; after all, the credits say “promotional consideration paid by” Cingular, Ford, and Coca-Cola. In addition, the company’s logo appears alongside every set of phone numbers and text messaging numbers on-screen. But the company also gets something else out of the deal: its users are the only ones who can vote via text messages.

During last night’s performances, Ryan Seacrest read 12 phone numbers and 12 text messaging numbers, one for each female performer. Three of those 12 times, he mentioned that it is “Cingular Wireless subscribers” who can text their votes. The show’s FAQ mentions this, noting that “Cingular Wireless subscribers may text the word VOTE,” but it also says, under the “Who can vote?” question, “Anyone calling or Text Messaging from within Continental US, Hawaii, Alaska and Puerto Rico can cast their vote for the next American Idol.”

But they can’t, unless they have a Cingular phone; other text messaging votes are discarded. A Fremantle executive pointed this out at a conference I attended a few weeks ago, noting that the other cell phone companies were probably thrilled about this, since they get to charge for those messages.

Obviously, the show isn’t being completely deceptive, since, again, Ryan Seacrest noted three times that text voting is for Cingular customers. But he never said that non-Cingular votes wouldn’t count, nor do any on-screen messages. More significantly, 75 percent of the time, he failed to mention that, instead instructing viewers to “text the word ‘vote’ to 57##.”