Spice Digital*, a mobile VAS company, has launched Voice Tube, an IVR based audio blogging platform in Bangladesh. The service first went live through Bangladesh’s private operator Robi (an Axiata company). The company notes that the service will go live soon on Airtel Bangladesh.

Voice Tube allows users to create audio content and share it with their network. The company notes that a maximum of 2 minute audio can be recorded. Once the user records an audio, it creates an MSISDN unique calling number, which is sent to the user via SMS. Followers of the user are also sent an SMS (Much Spam?) once a user they follow uploads an audio content. Apart from that, users can also listen to the audio content recorded by dialing the MSISDN and like or rate the content, share it on Facebook by sharing the unique dialing code. To avail the service, Robi users need to dial 808088 to subscribe to the service. It is priced at 2 Taka (~1.4 INR) for 2 days with 20 minutes of usage time.

This is not the first time that such audio based social networking platform has been launched: In 2011, Vodafone India had launched Bubble Motion’s Bubbly social messaging service. The service allowed subscribers record voice messages by dialing a number from their mobile phones, and get updates from subscribers they follow. Interestingly, the company did not charge subscribers to use the service and instead relied on cashing celebrity status updates. Bharti Airtel had also launched Airtel Blogs, powered by Bubble Motion’s Bubbly. VAS companies have also tried to bring TV shows to mobile through IVR. In January 2011,  Hungama Mobile had partnered with STAR World to offer Koffee with Karan on audio on the mobile; Koffee With Karan is a popular talk show featuring Bollywood celebrities. Archived episodes of Koffee With Karan Season 3 are available on IVR with Reliance (on both GSM & CDMA), Vodafone & Tata Indicom.

Do People Want Audio Blogs?

What needs to be questioned is whether people would use the IVR based audio services to access audio content on their mobile handsets? Considering that data has been much more prevalent in last few years, is also easy to use and turns out to be much more cheaper option, such IVR based services would become redundant sooner or later.

However, it should be noted that mobile VAS companies launch such services on IVR only because South Asia is still significantly a feature phone market. For consumers to make use of data services would require a smartphone and we believe for the market to transition to Smartphones, it would take time.

Perhaps Spice Digital might want to look at this more from the perspective of delivering utility information or education, rather than audio blogs, which would have significant usability issues: the BBC also runs something called BBC Janala, which helps people learn English via mobile, and back in 2010, it was reported have delivered 1 million English lessons. There’s also the IVR based community portal GramVaani (read our detailed interviews with GramVaani co-founder Aaditeshwar Seth here and here) which connects users in rural India.

Spice Digital In Bangladesh

In December 2012, Spice Digital had partnered the Bangladesh government to commercially roll out Access to Information services in Bangladesh. Interactive Voice Response (IVR) and SMS services been deployed by Spice on on the state owned telco Teletalk Bangladesh and Robi, offering information services like Passport Enquiry, Birth certificate and tax information from National Board of Revenue (NBR) with 30 more services in the pipeline, which includes 17 services based on API access from respective Government departments.

Nikhil adds:  There are gaps in the IVR space that can still be addressed, but there are two key issues here – is it a significant enough revenue opportunity, and secondly, how long will this remain. VAS companies have two options: make a significant international push (Africa, Bangladesh and South America are preferred destinations right now), or transition to a data business. Spice appears to be making an international push, but is there a plan around data as well?

 *Disclosure: Spice Digital is an Advertiser with MediaNama