The Beat’s $1-million gamble

Three days into December and we haven’t had a 45 cm snowfall yet. If we had, there’d be a very happy radio listener, a very happy radio station and a very unhappy insurance company.

But it’s highly unlikely we’re going to be seeing a $1-million payout.

As one of the many crazy ideas that have come out of its promotions department, The Beat is running a contest that asks listeners to guess a date in December in which a 45 cm snowfall hits Montreal. It was originally based on a report that predicted higher-than-average snowfall for December, but the prediction is actually lower-than-average snowfall for December.

The listener who guesses the correct date (or a random draw if multiple listeners guess it) gets $1 million. Or, more accurately, they get $25,000 a year for their lifetime or 40 years, whichever is shorter.

Here’s the catch: Montreal has never seen 45 cm of snow in a single day in December. Now it has. See below.

According to Environment Canada’s historical data, which goes back to 1941, the largest single-day snowfall in December in Montreal came on Dec. 16, 2005, and that was 41.2 cm.

And if we don’t get a day with a record 45 cm of snow before Dec. 21, nobody wins the million.

That was enough to get radio rabblerouser Ted Bird to create a parody of the contest for TSN 690.

The Beat’s general manager Mark Dickie acknowledged that the chances of a grand prize winner are slim, and that the station hasn’t really been emphasizing this fact in its promotion of the contest.

But he said the point is “the fun of the game,” and it’s not like anyone’s paying to enter.

Besides, it’s not that they don’t want someone to win. Because they’re not the ones who have to pay the prize.

Dickie said the station took out an insurance policy for the full amount. He wouldn’t say how much it cost, but it’s four or five figures, or significantly less than $1 million. This is because of how unlikely it is that Montreal will hit 45 cm of snow in a single day before the end of the contest on Dec. 21. The insurance company, he said, gave them options as far as how much the premium would be for different snow amounts, and 45 cm worked for them. It’s not impossible, but it’s also unlikely enough that it doesn’t break The Beat’s bank.

And since The Beat technically has no financial stake in this anymore, Dickie said they’re also hoping that someone wins.

“We would love to see a winner,” he said. “Obviously the insurance company wouldn’t.”

That might not be enough to satisfy critics like Bird. But is it unethical or deceptive? I’ll leave that for you to decide.

In the meantime, The Beat’s insurance company isn’t exactly dreaming of a white Christmas.

UPDATE (Dec. 22): The contest is over, and there’s no winner. Preliminary Environment Canada data shows a total of 27.8 cm of snow for the entire month, and the largest daily snowfall of 13 cm on Dec. 18. That’s less than a third of the 45 cm they needed, and nowhere near a record.

UPDATE (Dec. 28): Six days after the end of the contest, a record-setting snowfall of … wait for it … 45 centimetres in one day. What are the chances?

That news prompted a war of words on Twitter between Bird and Beat Program Director Leo Da Estrela:

7 thoughts on “The Beat’s $1-million gamble

  1. Marc

    This has got to be the stupidest contest ever. And it seems each time I briefly flip the dial over to 92.5, someone is going apeshit bananas that they’re the right caller to make their guess for an unrealistic snowfall. Time to start connecting some dots:

    – Videos from south of the border about the wicked insanity of “Black Friday” demonstrating the very worst in human behavior.
    – The same thing that will happen here for Boxing Day.
    – People lined up for two days outside Honest Ed’s in Toronto for the annual free turkey giveaway.
    – How people are reacting to this stupid contest.
    – And many more examples.

    If these are not signs of a society going straight down the toilet, what is?

  2. William

    You can easily hedge this payout via a weather derivative. And given the unlikelihood of the event, the premium would be small relative to payout.

  3. Ted

    I dd check this a while back and came to the same conclusion.

    However if they do advertise it as a $1 million contest, I cannot believe that Loto Quebec would permit them to limit the payouts to the winners lifetime – since the $1 million could be as short as $25K in the event of a quick demise. If they did, then the advsetising would be misleading.

    I would wager that LQ would insist that it be paid out for the balance of the 40 years to the beneficaries as set up in the (un)lucky deceased winner’s will.

    I hate these dumb contests… especially the way thye are hyped.


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