Idea Cellular has announced the launch of something a little more to my liking than Caller Ringback Tones (CRBTs): Pretones, which would allow users to listen to content while calling someone up, instead of a ring. Priced at Re. 1 per day (appears to be a Rs. 30/month subscription), customers can subscribe by dialling 55955. Pretones have been launched in partnership with Oorja Mobile Services, a One97 Communications company.

Users can subscribe to content like live Cricket updates, jokes, breaking news, astrology forecast, movie reviews and Bollywood updates while making a call. So what happens if the person whom you’re calling picks up the phone before the punch line? You can call resume listening to the content by calling 55955 after the call is completed.

Speaking with MediaNama, Vijay Shekhar Sharma, MD of One97 Communications (who also refers to himself as Product Manager for Oorja) explained that people aren’t really dialing into voice portals now, even if they have subscribed for access. Pretones address this issue by offering consumers a subscription based a la carte model, wherein the consumer doesn’t really need to remember which short code to dial. This is the monetization of small clips of content, and it is being deployed by Idea Cellular across the country.

Pretones are, in a sense, antithetical to CRBTs. What happens when someone who has a Pretone installed calls someone who has a CRBT? Sharma says that operators have the option of either masking the CRBT or first allow a Pretone then a CRBT. Incase of Idea, it’s first the Pretone, and then CRBT.

It’s important to note that Music isn’t a part of this particular launch: usually, music is the first type of content to be experimented with, and it defines the model (sets the tone?) for other content to follow. Sharma says that though they are currently focusing on auxiliary content, music can also be deployed, and this is only the first phase of launch; the platform deployed by Oorja allows the following:

1. Content subscription service: already launched, this allows content on the go with no need to dial into a separate voice portal.
2. Content being played becomes an A-party (caller party) Ringback Tone: This is a case of Pretones being used as a content disbursement platform.
3. Distrbution for long tail content and social sharing: In this case, there are no subscription charges, and you charge a customer for listening to a clip, say, a joke for 25p, instead of Rs. 30 per month. If a user favorites the content, then it can be shared with your social network (people you call often) on the mobile. (Ed: We’re not sure if this would work cross-operator, though. Multi-operator deployments are common,  we haven’t come across any offerings integrated across operators in India)
4. Third-Party content: mostly promotional content. Sharma says that, as an example, “a movie producer can pay us to promote their content instead of long tail content, and customers can get, for example, a free clip for listening. Similarly, we’ll run click through or branding campaigns, and have advertising on the platform.” Additionally, this can be used to upsell ringbacktones.

Sharma says that there’s more to the platform that meets the eye: “We went ahead picked up a genome model, so there will be music recommendation. I don’t believe in Spotify, I believe in Pandora. You can subscribe to an album and it will play different songs from the album. We can program it that we don’t play it during peak hours. You can choose specific numbers and specific content as well – a Pretone for when you’re calling your boss. You can press * to skip the content as well. There’s also content profiling: when we play a Joke, and if people don’t like the joke and skip it, it can be automatically dropped. If people are listening to the complete piece, then it gets ranked higher.

Frankly, I’ve never liked being forced to listen to CRBTs. I’d like to be able to select specific songs (not an entire album, but singles), a playlist of my choice, that I can listen to while making a call.

P.s.: While searching for Oorja’s difficult-to-find-via-search website, we did find a video of Oorja CEO Rajiv Madhok on YouTube, driving down to Bharti Airtel’s office in Gurgaon. Rather amusing comments on operator-VAS company relationships.