Celebrity voice chats appear to be a massive opportunity for monetization on mobile: Airtel has a service called Talk2Me powered by One97 Communications*, for which UTV Interactive is bringing in celebrities for mobile voice chats with subscribers. In December, Airtel had offered customers a chat with Bollywood actors Akshay Kumar, Katrina Kaif, and director and choreographer Farah Khan. This was followed by another chat recently with actress Prachi Desai, and now  UTV Interactive is extending this partnership to regional markets – signing up Malayalam actor Jagadish Kumar, and Punjab based singer, composer and lyricist Satinder Sartaaj.

What’s particularly fascinating about this offering, is that it takes the news-website-feature of celebrity chats (typically ad supported, or not at all), and converts it into a voice-based-customer-pays service on the mobile. For the celebrities, it’s an opportunity to pitch their latest offerings and also make some money through arrangements with VAS companies. Given the larger reach that mobile has, and the ease of connecting, the opportunity to scale both usage and revenue, with this service, is immense. There’s a Rs. 15 registration charge for the service, and the per-minute pricing varies across telecom operators, Sameer Pitalwalla, Sr. Vice President, UTV Interactive and Business Head Video Products.

But one question still remains – given that it is voice chat, how is it moderated? Pitalwalla said that while there is no foolproof method, users are typically queued up on the call, and the celebrity has the option of skipping a question. “It is real-time chat, not a Q&A session. The callers are screened, but the questions are not. We have the MSISDN numbers (unique identification numbers) for subscribers. These chats happen on a single operator network, and not across networks, and there’s an onus on the telecom operator to also ensure that the content of the chat is not malicious.” Undoubtedly, this is tricky – for a user, there’s a significant difference in value proposition between live and deferred live.

Pitalwalla declined to comment on the type and term of deals inked with celebrities, saying only that UTV has already acquired rights for multiple celebrities, in the form of text, voice, video and images, and this is just another distribution platform for them. UTV has signed also actors John Abraham and Priyanka chopra, among others.

There is another opportunity, though. Pitalwalla believes that with the arrival of 3G, there will be a consolidation of platforms, which will allow people who are doing voice, to do a chat simultaneously on multiple media, including on TV, Video and Voice.

Corrigendum: We had incorrectly reported that UTV Interactive has created the Talk2Me service. It’s an Airtel product powered by One97 Communications, we were informed by the latter. The error is regretted.

*Disclosure: One97 Communications is an advertiser with MediaNama

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