What used to happen was that you'd be invited to answer a pretty tricky question - perhaps on a postcard, or phoning in. The first answer drawn out of the hat would win. But the programme makers wouldn't want their job to be harder than necessary. They wanted people to "have a go" - but they didn't want to be completely flooded with right answers.
This even extended to children's programmes. I remember one mini-quiz - perhaps it was on Swap Shop or something like that - which showed a picture of penguins, and invited people to phone in and say what sort they were. There weren't three options to choose from - just a photo of a penguin. Like this ...
... and a phone number.
All that changed with the arrival of two things - premium rate phone lines, and call automation. Now, the winner of the prize draw could be determined entirely automatically, without tying up any staff in the company. And also, the more people who phoned in, the more money the company got. So the above photo would be accompanied by three options:
What type of penguin is this?
- A macaroni penguin
- A beefburger penguin
- A Chinese takeaway penguin
You'd actually have to be pretty determinedly stupid to get the wrong answer.
What's the effect? Well, all - or rather, anyone - could have a prize. But the prize is no longer worth having. It doesn't represent any achievement, and if you win it, it's just down to luck.