Uncounted votes

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 Audiences are the ones who can decide the winner for Vietnam Idol. But director Nguyen Quang Dung, member of the judge panel, said that sometimes their idol taste is so weird when all the talents are fallen.

Fans voting for their favorite singers on Sao Mai diem hen (Morning star rendezvous) on December 6 were frustrated when their sms votes were rejected by the operator.

The seventh season of Sao Mai diem hen, a music contest first held in 2007, has been marred by controversy surrounding the voting system. Many people said they did not get a vote registration confirmation from the operator, only a message saying "voting is closed" despite texting their votes well within the time limit.

Several members of the audience have since raised questions about the legitimacy and fairness of public voting systems on television.

Huyen Thanh, organizer of Sao Mai diem hen, told the press that the breakdown happened because of an overwhelming number of texts coming in at the same time. But a netizen, Bui Thu Trang, claimed the organizer's attitude was an affront to fans of the show. "All our votes for our favorite contestants have gone down the drain," she complained.

"The organizers know that an "˜operator fault' can easily ruin a contestant's chance of winning, or even result in them being thrown out of the competition. The producers belittled the problem by calling it an error and didn't even offer a public apology. That's reason enough to think Sao Mai diem hen is a rigged contest," said Trang.

In recent years, many music shows, contests and awards such as Sao Mai diem hen, Vietnam Idol, Lan song xanh (Green Wave) and Album vang (Golden album), have relied on public votes, via texting, ratings and online voting.

Suspicious Idols

Vietnam Idol has also been reeling under controversy with several deserving candidates prematurely eliminated from the show. Through its three seasons, the last of which ends December 25, the uncovered ballot has led many to wonder about the reliability of the public voting system.

Director Nguyen Quang Dung, member of the judging panel for Vietnam Idol season 3, said that the early dismissal of two strong contenders Phuong Anh and Trung Quan was suspicious and "a stolen dream."

Representatives of Dong Tay Promotions and BHD Co. Ltd, organizers of Vietnam Idol, said that they are obliged not to disclose the voting ratio under their contract with Fremantle Media, the international production company of the global show.

The public voting on shows such as Lan song xanh as well as the monthly award for the best albums, Album vang have also been under the scanner. Despite promises to reveal voting details, Lan song xanh awards closed December 4 without coming clean.

There are some though, like HTV, Cong hien (Devotion), and Mai vang (Gold apricot) awards which release poll results for each nominee. While the first two garner votes solely via texts, Mai vang relies on posted ballots as well.

Cushioned fall

The unclear voting system has also led to unexpected "˜casualties' - gifted contestants like Hai Yen, Thao Trang and Minh Chuyen in the first two seasons of Vietnam Idol.

However, it seems that the controversy surrounding their unfair dismissals have actually boosted the post-show fame of some contestants. Hai Yen and Thao Trang are now well-known in the up-and-coming singers circuit while Minh Chuyen is a strong contender for the crown in this year's Sao Mai diem hen.

There is much at stake in these contests, with cash awards of up to US$20,000 up for grabs.

But, according to music-lovers, it is not the prizes but the fame which comes along with winning a nationally televised show that pushes some contestants to resort to unfair means. Some singers have even been rumored to buy SIM cards for their fans to encourage voting.

Online voting

In November this year, popular music website zing.vn announced the "Zing Music Awards" based solely on online voting, a new frontier in Vietnam's entertainment industry.

According to Zing, the 31 million Internet users in Vietnam are a huge untapped market. Nominees for the "Zing Music Awards" are determined by their online rating averages, songs released, box office hits and album sales.

Zing spokesperson Dinh Ha said that the debut online voting awards are totally based on netizen votes, so it's important to prevent any cheating.

"To prevent spam, we have a limitation of 10 votes per day per IP Address. However, in big companies or internet cafes, many users use the same IP Address and their genuine votes may be blocked. Our team of professional IT engineers keeps a tab on the votes round the clock to prevent spam," said Ha.

Ha said that the voting system saves the profile of each valid ballot, including user ID, personal information, voting number and IP address.

"Before one can vote, a user must enter an encrypted code. This prevents spamming software which can be used to hack the website and manipulate voting results," said Ha.

Yet, Zing's website was recently attacked by malware which affected the votes of some nominees like Ngo Kien Huy, Noo Phuoc Thinh, Wanbi Tuan Anh and Trinh Thang Binh.

Ha said the company has eliminated all invalid votes and upgraded the system to prevent future problems.

The nominees of the first online voting awards, which conclude January 2011, include many young Internet artists who are increasingly defining the music scene in Vietnam.

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