[Manic Monday] IVR May Still Be Relevant For Digital Entertainment
IVR, short for Interactive Voice Response, is actually a quite old technology, which you may have already used without you knowing. The IVR system is usually used by automated customer services by phone, which consist of voice recordings following a certain menu, accessible by pressing the numbers on your phone. The system will record the DTMF tone of each number (each number has its own DTMF tone, for numbers 0-9 and the symbols * and #), and will call up the menu according to the caller's choice. For instance: press 1 for product info, press 2 for ordering, and so on. Ring a bell?
What most people might not realize is that this IVR system has already been widely used for digital entertainment, even from the early 2000s. During that time, several companies opened up premium numbers (usually with a 0809 prefix) to sell ringtones and wallpapers. They promoted whole lists of download codes in newspapers and magazines, let's say 12345 to download a /Rif song.
The prospective buyer would call to the assigned 0809 number – as provided in its advertisements – and follow the menu heard through the phone line. Once the menu reaches the download section, the prospective buyer must input the selected download code, and input his or her cellphone number. If the phone matches the ringtone or wallpaper format sent, the ordered content will be sent through SMS to the buyer's cellphone.
There is a dark side to services like this. Since the ringtone/wallpaper seller companies gain revenue from the amount of minutes the caller uses the service (I think it's around Rp 3,000/minute), a number of companies purposefully prolong the call, costing the buyer more money.
Due to the limitations of technology at that time, if you incorrectly order an Ericsson ringtone for a Nokia cellphone for example, you've lost your money. Due to a raft of overcharging issues, and the fact that 0809 numbers were also used for 'adult entertainment' services, the reputation of services using 0809 and the companies using it went down, and the interest in such services slowly disappeared.
Following a success in India, where voice-based services do very well since there is still a large percentage of the population that is illiterate, IVR services were launched again by telecommunications companies like Esia in 2005. The difference is, this IVR service was packaged with a look and feel of a radio show, with a friendly radio DJ voice taking you through the menu options to listen to music or listen to entertainment news. The price was comparitively cheap compared to 0809 services, around Rp 500/minute. And of course, if you like one of the songs, you could buy it to set as a ringbacktone or ringtone. Unfortunately, to this day, interest in these services is still low due to the small amount of produced content.
Although entertainment services through IVR seem very simple in the smartphone, mobile app and high-speed internet age, the technology remains very relevant in Asia, especially in countries with low smartphone and mobile internet penetration. The service is not dependent on a data connection - which usually gets worse in highly-populated areas - as it only uses the phone line. The limitations of the IVR media can actually become a potential for creativity - not only for music servies, but also audiobooks, education, and so on. Who wants to start?
Ario is a co-founder of Ohdio, an Indonesian music streaming service. He worked in the digital music industry in Indonesia from 2003 to 2010, and recently worked in the movie and TV industry in Vietnam. Keep up with him on Twitter at @barijoe or his blog at http://barijoe.wordpress.com.
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