Updated below with inputs from a Balaji Telefilms spokesperson.

Production house Balaji Telefilms has launched Kriminal Kaun, an audio based, made-for-mobile interactive detective series called Kriminal Kaun. This is a series of audiosodes, available in Hindi or Tamil, with an new series launched every week, with four episodes per series. The series has been launched with telecom operator Aircel, at Rs. 30 per month, and 10 paise per minute. It’s worth noting that the series has been developed in audio: voice based services are believed to constitute a majority of non-SMS based mobile revenue. Update: A Balaji New Media spokesperson told MediaNama that this series is exclusively for Aircel customers, and they are working on other content formats with other operators.

On The Content Format

Consumers get to hear the story (an introduction and discovery of the crime, I presume) in the first episode, the investigation in the second, they’re allowed to guess the “Kriminal” in the third in an interactive episode, and the crime is solved in the fourth.

As a consumer, I’m quite unsure of this format: when it comes to a mystery, I prefer that it begin and end with the same episode; it’s risky because whether one is willing to wait for the next episode depends entirely on how the content has been crafted and the story delivered – it’s not exceptionally good, then one would never go back to it; one could also argue that the longer one has to wait, the more the curiosity, and interest is maintained by keeping the mystery alive. It still does appear to be a risky format. We’ve requested Balaji New Media for a sample.

Update: A Balaji spokesperson told MediaNama that consumers tend to listen to audio content on the mobile for 5-7 minutes at a time, not 15-20 minutes. So while they could have created 15-20 minute formats, the idea was to give the consumer a snack, give him time to mull over it, and then return for another offering the next day. On day three of each series, the consumer calls into the IVR to give his take on who committed the crime and how.

Also read: Balaji New Media CEO Uday Sodhi On Hoonur.com, Mobile Content Initiatives

On Made For Mobile Content

A content business like this is a front-loaded, hit-or-miss game, dependent on both great writers and strong distribution; series like this will provide Balaji Telefilms, a production house with housewives as their primary target audience, with insight on what works (or what doesn’t work) with the mobile generation.

This is the second major made-for-mobile initiative by a production house in India: earlier Rajshri Media had developed a series called ‘Akbar Birbal Remixed’, a series of short episodes that was released in multiple formats at once: on the web as videos on YouTube, audio and SMS (jokes) with Idea Cellular. We’re not sure of whether it had mass appeal, but these will invariably provide important learning for production houses, in terms of content format, pricing, distribution arrangements, content delivery mechanisms, among others.

From a business perspective, I’m not quite sure of whether a mobile only series will be able to stand on its own legs; for now, it’s probably better to go cross-media (TV+Mobile), before going mobile-only: maybe additional audio episodes of an existing TV series: CID, for example.