ITV In Rule Breach Over ‘Britain’s Got Talent’ Stunt-Double Dog Act – Update

UPDATE, AUGUST 17: Fitting for the dog days of summer, the case of Britain’s Got Talent and the canine finale-act switcheroo has reared its head once again. After a detailed investigation into the events of the May 31 Season 9 ender, British media regulator Ofcom today ruled that ITV was in breach of Rule Chase BGT ITV2.14 of the Broadcasting Code for “misleading viewers.” Here’s a refresher: The high-rated show had culminated with trainer Jules O’Dwyer and her dog Matisse taking the top £250K prize, but it was later revealed that O’Dwyer substituted another dog, Chase, to perform a high-wire walk that was the set piece of the winning act (video below). The audience and judges were unaware.

jules matisse bgtThe revelation made headlines in June and led to 1,175 complaints from viewers. BGT producers and ITV have maintained there was no intention to mislead the public. Judge/impresario Simon Cowell welcomed the Ofcom investigation while urging viewers not to blame O’Dwyer.

In Ofcom’s write-up of the investigation, ITV expressed its “sincere regret” for the “unfortunate editorial mistake.” The media authority has accepted the network “had no intention to deceive the audience,” a spokesperson tells Deadline. But, “the presentation of the act did not make clear to viewers that a central part was performed by a second dog.” Thus, for Ofcom, ITV broke broadcasting rules. It is since understood to have put in place a formal compliance review meeting at the end of each BGT dress rehearsal, and before the live performances.

Ofcom has not levied fines or sanctions against ITV, and the network has said it will refund viewers who used a premium-rate method to cast their votes. An ITV spokesperson tells me, “The majority of votes cast for Jules’ act were received through the free voting app. However, we accept that some viewers who voted for the winning act by a paid voting route may wish to seek a refund, or that the cost of their vote be donated in full to the Royal Variety charity.” In the case of O’Dwyer’s win, almost 90% of the votes were registered via the free app, Ofcom’s report said.

There are no plans to hold a re-do of the voting process. There was a “commanding margin of voting for the winning act in relation to the next contestant,” the ITV spokesperson adds. It would also be unfair to O’Dwyer. “As Ofcom noted in its adjudication, she spoke openly about the role of the third dog, Chase, on (a morning talk show) the following day after the final, the dog that featured on stage with Matisse in her earlier semi-final performance, and there is no suggestion that she ever had any intention to deceive viewers.”

PREVIOUS UPDATE, JUNE 15: After receiving 1,150 complaints from audience members with a bone to pick, UK regulator Ofcom has decided to move ahead with an investigation into the May 31 finale of Britain’s Got Talent, the ITV competition show created by Simon Cowell. The highly-rated episode culminated with dog trainer Jules O’Dwyer and her canine Matisse winning the top prize for Season 9. But it was later revealed that O’Dwyer substituted a stunt double for a high-wire walk which the audience, and judges, believed was the paw prowess of Matisse. (Check out the act in the video below.)

Rule 2.14 of the British Broadcasting Code states: “Broadcasters must ensure that viewers and listeners are not materially misled about any broadcast competition or voting.” An Ofcom spokesperson today told Deadline, “We’ve opened an investigation to determine whether viewers of ITV’s Britain’s Got Talent final, who may have paid money to vote, were misled about the competition.”

An ITV spokesman said, “We confirm we have now been informed that Ofcom is investigating, and we will be co-operating fully and responding in due course.”

Show impresario and judge Cowell, who was not aware of the switch, earlier told The Mirror, “The moment I found out, I literally put my head in my hands. I spoke to a lot of people after, and I did raise my voice.” He urged viewers not to blame O’Dwyer and described the situation as a “cock-up… It wasn’t one person saying ‘hide the dog’, so I welcome any investigation so [Jules] can walk out with her head held high.” He added at the time, “There was definitely no intention from the producers to hide this, that I do know 100%.”

PREVIOUS, JUNE 2: The Sunday finale of Simon Cowell’s Britain’s Got Talent became the highest-rated program on UK TV this year with an average of 11.7M viewers tuning in to see dog trainer Jules O’Dwyer and canine Matisse score the top prize. The 52% share was good news for the ITV series, but the audience, and potentially regulator Ofcom, now have a bone to pick.

Following the win, which comes with a £250,000 purse, O’Dwyer confirmed on ITV morning program Lorraine that Matisse did not actually perform a tightrope walk that was the centerpiece of the final act (see video below). Instead, a stunt double, Chase, was substituted. O’Dwyer explained that Matisse is capable of the stunt but “is a little bit afraid of heights… Chase is the action dog, so he plays the double for him.” The switch was made behind-the-scenes.

A Twitter backlash then ensued, and Ofcom tells Deadline it has received 206 complaints thus far and will assess them “before deciding whether to investigate or not.” The broadcasting code stipulates that on competition shows, “broadcasters must ensure that viewers and listeners are not materially misled about any broadcast competition or voting.” ITV has not yet responded to a request for comment. The network received a record £5.7M fine in 2008 for misleading viewers over phone-ins on shows that included Ant & Dec’s Saturday Night Takeaway.

BGT producers have, however, apologized for not making it clear that Matisse had a stand-in. A spokesperson says, “During the competition, viewers have seen that Jules’ act involves a team of dogs, including Chase and Skippy, alongside starring dog Matisse, to perform her unique mixture of dog agility and story-telling.” Chase had previously performed alongside Matisse in the semi-final act. But the upset stems from the audience — and the judges, including Cowell — not being explicitly informed of the switch. “We are sorry if this was not made clearer to the judges and viewers at home during their final performance,” the spokesperson adds.

Reports have suggested that Cowell is seeking an investigation into what happened, although I hear that’s not the case; and that, despite calls from the public for a do-over of the finale, it’s unlikely.

O’Dwyer and Matisse (and Chase and Skippy) is the 2nd recent dog act to be crowned BGT champ. In 2012, Ashleigh and Pudsey were the winners with far less controversy surrounding that victory — although their 3D feature film later earned a tepid £2.5M at the UK box office

Here’s this year’s winning act:

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