Text messaging is now mostly a flat per-month fee. For instance, AT&T can add "unlimited messaging" to any cell phone plan for $20/month, or $30/month for an entire family of cell phone users.

Otherwise, the first time a teen rang up an $800 text messaging charge, there would be a wee bit of trouble...don't you think?

I don't think AI makes money from messaging, however AT&T, one of their big sponsors, would benefit some from it. Actually, with every incoming vote, there would NORMALLY be some sort of charge to AI for at least the 866 numbers. Toll-free numbers are definitely charged by the minute to the owner of the line.

My guess, however, is that AT&T is providing either severely discounted 866 line costs, or just giving them to AI free in exchange for promotion on the show. They would also only need to have a text mailbox to receive the text message votes (and a program to count them). Once the infrastructure is in place for toll-free lines and text messaging, there's not much of an actual ongoing cost to the telco.

However, you're right in that until the producers see a financial advantage in changing the voting method, they have no incentive. If allowing kids to vote 500 times for their "fave" is keeping 30 million people watching, they'll continue to do just that.

Here's an idea someone presented on the AI forum:

Have the votes counted by the number of paid downloads (from iTunes) of the contestant's song. You could even discount those particular songs to something like $.25 instead of $.99. Here are the arguments:

1. They're already recording those performances so it wouldn't cost the show any extra (except to set up the vote tally program).
2. It would certainly keep the people voting 500 times down to a reasonable range.
3. I don't think that $.25 would turn many off to voting - especially since they'd know their vote actually means something.
4. It would have the added benefit of finding out who would actually PAY for music by that artist.
5. It would also provide an additional revenue stream for AI.

What do you think?