What Needs To Be Done
— Single Point Access: Arvind Rao, CEO of OnMobile emphasised the need for a single point window for short codes, so that the short code is operational within 30 days on all operators; a central point for getting connectivity and access for off-deck services
— A central independent auditor for content downloads
— It’s important to get the DOT to remove the 15 percent tax on mobile VAS; it will kill the micro-payments sector

Short Code Issues
Both Rao and Viren Popli, SVP & Head of Mobile Entertainment for STAR, mentioned the issues around short codes – it used to take 2 years to get a short code from BSNL at one point in time. Popli said that even when a short code is given, one still does not get connectivity – having to fly around the country (with different circle heads, I presume)- it just adds tremendous cost to a startup. Imagine what will happen when you have to deal with 20 mobile operators.

Content Issues

Quality Of Service: Popli said that those who are providing branded services are very cognizant of the quality of service. “We have a very strong third party audit for every large show – KMPG, Deloitte etc. We have published rules and regulations. If there’s a failure on the network side, we are not liable.” For the show Paanchvi Pass, they set up a call center for complaints and…”we record each and every call – in one of our data vaults we have every call we’ve recorded for KBC 1 – so we can pull it out and say that at so and so time, and so and so date, this is what you said. That’s something that we as an organization do invest in.”

On Liability, Exclusive Deals, Lottery and Bikinis, Telcos and Marketing –

Liability If a music company licenses content to an Industry body, who licenses it to an aggregator, who gives it to the operator who sells it to the consumer, who is liable for it? Rao feels that in case of on-deck, the operator is liable, though the overriding liability is that of the person who provided the content. Popli disagreed, saying that currently an operator buys the content from and sells it further, taking title of the goods; hence he becomes liable, because he’s taking a percentage of the sales proceed.

Beerud Sheth, Co-founder, SMSGupShup cited the DMCA regulation in the US, and the Safe Harbor provision, saying that liability has nothing to do with commercials. The person who puts up the content should be responsible, and there should be a take down mechanism. “Don’t hold the carrier and platform responsible – they will just shut the service down. There’s no motivation or incentive for them.” At this point, the TRAI only wants to identify who is responsible for what goes through the network: where does the carriers responsibility end, and the VAS providers responsibility begin. “And in our case (SMS GupShup), where is the responsibility in case of user generated content? At least on the user generated content issue, where is precedence in case of the Internet. The Safe Harbor provision.”

A few other interesting points:
— Exclusive Deals: “If you’re going down the path of ‘benefiting the end consumer’, then this will mean an end to exclusive deals. Then all content should be available to all consumers, and you cant do exclusive deals only with an operator,” said Arvind Rao. Popli added that if the TRAI gets involved, they might institute a blanket pricing
— Lottery And Bikinis: Popli added that there are laws which many content providers are not aware of – “In case of a lottery, a lucky draw is criminal offence. It’s a game of chance, not a game of skill. Then there is the SITA act – which does not allow you to show women in bikinis. We know what wallpapers are about.”
— How Things Have Not Changed: Change appears to be the operative word right now, but Raj Singh, MD of ActiveMedia, put things into perpective – ActiveMedia launched their short code in 1992. The logic was this – the off portal market in UK is 70 percent, on portal is 30 percent. The revenue share drives a large pipe, and operator gets a smallish share. So we thought – 10 years down the line, it will happen here too – it has to. Better revenue share, a larger pie…for some reason, it just hasn’t happened.
— Telcos Marketing Muscle: Rao suggested that if it wasn’t for the telcos, VAS wouln’t be $1.5 Billion today. “If STAR and Vodafone were to launch a mobile program, and promote it to the best of their ability, it would make a lot of money.” Popli countered, saying that “If I were to launch a program, and probably not spend as much money as Vodafone, but have it live across all the operators, I would make more money, specifically with revenue shares.”