CJ ENM under fire in ‘Produce X 101’ voting scandal

CJ ENM-owned broadcaster Mnet is facing legal action as its talent show Produce X 101 comes under fire for alleged vote manipulation.

Seoul-based legal firm MAST Law & Consulting is representing a group of 272 viewers who have filed a legal complaint against the South Korean music channel, accusing Mnet of fraud and obstruction of business, and alleging that the business altered vote counts following the show’s July finale.

Airing from May to July, Produce X 101 is the fourth edition of the Mnet reality show and sees members of the public forming a boy band by voting in for their favourite singers. Of the 101 trainees, who originate from various talent agencies, 11 are ultimately chosen.

The viewers behind the complaint claim to have noticed a recurring pattern in the votes – each of which costs around 8 cents per text-in vote – for certain contestants. According to The Korea Herald, the top contestant received 29,978 more votes than the runner-up, with the same gap recurring for pairs of other contestants.

Producers for Produce X 101 released a statement on the show’s official Facebook page on 24 July apologising for the scandal and suggesting that calculating errors were to blame. They denied that the competition had been fixed.

“We will improve our text voting system and calculation system to prevent this problem from occurring again the future,” reads the statement, posted to Mnet’s page for the show. “Our production staff will put in our full effort to produce more transparent and fair programs in the future.”

The legal complaint calls for further investigation by authorities, noting that the results “appear far too unnatural to be the result of the one-week online voting and the text votes, of which there were over 1.4 million.

“It seems reasonable to suspect that the released voting results might be different from the actual voting results,” reads the complaint.

CJ ENM and Korean trade body KOCCA did not respond to requests for comment from TBI by press time.

One senior formats exec tells TBI that altering public votes to change the result of a programme is rife across entertainment, and that the outcome of the Produce X 101 case is unlikely to “influence the trust [between broadcaster and audience] across other shows”.

“I don’t think there will be any consequences globally in relation to the voting mechanisms,” the source told TBI. “It’s limited to that case in that territory and it’s a breach of confidence between them and their voters, so they will need to regain their trust of voters.”

Copycat case

The controversy around Produce X 101 comes more than a year after CJ ENM accused Baidu-owned Chinese platform iQiyi of ripping off the Produce X 101 format in its own show Idol 101.

Formats watchdog FRAPA hosted a case study of the two formats at MIPTV in Cannes in April 2018, comparing side-by-side footage of both formats and ultimately assigning the Chinese programme its highest “copy score” to date.