NEW MEDIA: SPOTLIGHT ON GLOBAL SMS - First global audience text vote takes Miss World to new level

Viewers of the competition this year will be able to vote via SMS, Alasdair Reid says.

Have you heard the one about Bruce Forsyth, the government of Nigeria, a Sharia Law stoning, the world's first global audience text vote and last but not least, Miss World? We're not making this up, honest. No-one could make this up. If they did, they'd never try to include an element as improbable as the Miss World contest - and no, this isn't a flashback to the 70s. Incredibly, the event still exists - arguably as big and bouncy as it ever was, due to the discovery that Third World countries haven't yet started reading the works of Germaine Greer.

And its organisers are now touting it as a global TV event. Not quite in the same league as the Olympics, perhaps, but a kind of Eurovision Song Contest with knobs on. (Or not, as the case may be.) It will be held in Nigeria this December - although, worryingly, the organisers can't yet confirm a venue.

Even more worryingly, parts of Nigeria still suffer the misery that is Sharia Law, that charming way of life beloved of extreme Muslims - and its adherents are about to prove a point and defy the Nigerian government by stoning a girl to death for adultery.

If this tragedy takes place it will introduce Miss World contestants to a perplexing moral dilemma as they try to work out whether they should boycott the event in the international cause of womanhood. It's one of those situations where you don't know whether to laugh or cry. But Forsyth was certainly having a whale of a time as he began the countdown to the whole shebang the other day at a gala event hosted by Claridges in London.

Which brings us to the aspect that in any other circumstances might be the most remarkable part of this story - the event is to see the first ever SMS text vote conducted on a global basis. This is going to be like Pop Idol or Big Brother writ large. Strange but true.

Who would have believed that the buttoned-down digital marketing community and Miss World would find themselves as bedfellows?

But how on earth is it going to work? There's a question of timing for a start. Nigeria is one hour ahead of London time, which means it's in step with the mainland of Europe. Which is good for the European audience, such as it is. But, as the show takes place in the evening in Nigeria, the Far East (Miss World is huge in India and China) will be tucked up in bed, while Rio (the Brazilians are also huge fans) will just be taking afternoon tea. In vital markets, opportunities to view (and text) will be severely limited.

But why bother in the first place? Miss World is surely well outside the core text-messaging market - beauty contests are surely mainly for old men who believe they still have a twinkle in their eye. Aren't they? Ask yourself this - how much of a text fiend is Forsyth?

Some observers believe this is just a gimmick designed to revive interest in a very tired old property (Miss World, that is). Others, however, say that, whatever you think of the event itself, this is going to make a fascinating experiment.

And the logistics aren't as horrendous as they first appear. The voting will actually take place around a number of pre-show shows leading up to the main event; and these pre-recorded programmes can obviously be scheduled to get maximum audiences by individual national broadcasters while dovetailing with the texting logistics - which will be handled across all markets by the international network of Flytxt.

Voting will actually close at midnight Greenwich Mean Time on the night of 6 December.

It might just work. And according to Lars Becker, Flytxt's chief executive, there will be great lessons to be learned if it does.

"Once we have set it up, we're confident we can extend this to other applications," he says. "At one level, this will prove a great stamp of approval for texting. In some countries such as the UK, it's widely accepted what you can do with texting and its potential. In the rest of the world, it's happening more slowly. This will help people recognise the potential.

"And I think it can be translated into a marketing context. The fact that there are mechanics that can cut right across many different countries is something that will always be of interest to huge multinational companies. It might make people look at, for instance, on-pack promotions and realise that now you can have promotions spread across many different countries. It allows you to look at this on a regional basis."

But what about the age thing? Almost by definition, if you are a heavy texter you're likely to be in a demographic segment that finds Miss World risible. At best. Not so, Becker says. First, the greatest growth in text use is now in older age groups; and second, younger age groups in China and Brazil and India are by no means as disdainful of the event as Western teenagers might be.

But what does the rest of the market think? Wayne Arnold, the UK managing director of the digital communications agency Profero, admits he's intrigued.

"It could show that the technology is really getting there at a global level, which has to be encouraging," he says. "The truth is that we're already seeing texting emerging at a pan-European level, with campaigns from companies such as Buena Vista and McDonald's. Yes, people will say this is just a gimmick and that its only purpose is to create interest in an event. But the thing is, there's something in the gimmick. I think we'll all be very interested in the results - if nothing else, it will tell us something about mobile phone habits and comparative usage around the world."