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Audio cinema on mobiles: The new source of revenue for film and telecom cos
The reincarnation of an old form of entertainment could become a viable revenue stream for producers and telecom companies which are looking for
innovative ways to bring in more revenues from value added services (VAS).

If listening to movies on the radio has been an established source of entertainment in the past, it is back in a rather interesting form. Back then it was on that large LP (remember the Long Playing record?) Now, it is on that device which most of us find hard to separate from — the mobile phone.

About seven months ago, UTV New Media decided to bring audio cinema on the mobile. The first film they tapped this revenue stream with was Madhur Bhandarkar’s Fashion and they were overwhelmed with the response.

With subscribers willing to pay an approximate Rs 30 to hear the film which on audio comes down to an hour’s time, UTV followed up Fashion with the classic all-time hit, Sholay (Hindi), and added some regional fare as well with Prem Loka (Kannada), Thalapathi (Tamil) and Gang Leader (Telugu).

Today, the concept has slowly but surely spread its wings and the consensus is clear — there is serious potential in this business. At a million subscribers, the business contributes an approximate Rs 30-40 lakh and is expected to grow.

The service was introduced to primarily cater to a segment of mobile subscribers who use the voice function for entertainment on their mobile; ringtones and caller back ringtones being some examples. “The largest number of subscribers depend on voice for entertainment unlike a section of consumers who use their phone largely for SMSs and data-related applications.

Importantly, the areas from where these consumers come from do not really have high-quality movie theatres,” adds Agarwal.

A decade ago, digital rights were given free of cost. Now, there is a case of a monetary transaction, which works in favour of the producers and service providers.

With the service bringing in more subscribers, UTV has gone beyond its own motion picture catalogue and looking at films that belong to other producers as well. “The idea is to look at big hits in terms of script and dialogue,” says Rajat Kakkar, MD, Universal Music, one of the content providers.
His company owns the rights to the dialogue and soundtrack of Sholay which also holds its hit record in this new medium. “In fact, we have a
large catalogue of films from the 70s and 80s,” he adds. Today, UTV is expanding its catalogue and has nearly 60 films in its cache which include well-known hits like Salim Javed’s classic Deewar.

Here’s how the dynamics work for audio cinema — the film is re-edited completely in order to do justice to the story line. A narrator is introduced who connects the dots and introduces the characters in the film. “We have a separate creative team which manages the editing in house,” explains Agarwal.

Pricing the service competitively was a challenge. The usual Rs 6 per minute charged by telcos for their VAS was too expensive for audio cinema — the length of films typically ranging from half-an-hour to an hour in some cases. Instead of a per minute charge, it was decided to charge a subscription fee of Rs 30, which would give the consumer access to a certain number of minutes — anywhere between 30 and 60.

With the spread cutting across languages — Hindi, Tamil, Telugu, Kannada and Malayalam — the potential is large. For telcos, the prospects here are hard to miss. “The service has the potential to grow into a significant revenue stream. The mobile space is geared up today on both infrastructure and technology for audio cinema,” explains Pradeep Shrivastava, chief marketing officer, Idea Cellular.

Here, the telco is a distributor and an access point. In the case of audio cinema, Shrivastava expects the popular cinema segment to do well. Music and some dialogue to one’s ears.

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