| 17 Jun 2024
Naveen Bhandari: "We will invest around 10-15 mn in apps & advertising space"

One of the leading players in the Value Added Services (VAS) domain, Techzone offers a rich portfolio of managed services for telecom operators, media houses and related enterprises. The company has exclusive rights to over a million music and video titles and powers nearly 60 per cent of all mobile digital entertainment content in India and many parts of the world.

Techzone has recently tied-up with major channels growing exponentially in sales and marketing, technical, content digitization and new product development(R& D). Its various services include WAP services, Caller Ring Back Tones (CRBT), Short Messaging Service (SMS) and Interactive Voice Response (IVR).

In a dialogue with's Chandni Mathur, Techzone managing director Naveen Bhandari reveals the future of VAS and its new initiatives in the content distribution space.


Give us a brief about Techzone's growth from 2011 to 2012?

Techzone started way back in 1999 with a team of four people and have come a long way to about 350 plus team members. We work with all the telcos and top labels in the country including Sony and Universal. We run across all the four platforms on telcos which include SMS, WAP, IVR and RBT and now 3G. For the last two years, we have also started exploring international markets and our flagship product ‘Magic Voice' is live in about 33 countries worldwide.

Tell us more about Magic Voice.

It's a voice changing software which is live in countries including Sudan, Yemen, Afghanistan, Tanzania, Saudi Arabia, Uganda, Kenya, Indonesia, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and more. It's a simple product where Party A calls Party B through a short code where the person can change his voice to nine other odd voices which include females, cartoon characters and more on the go. We worked on it for two years and rolled it out around 6-7 months back. It's doing really well and about 4-5 odd countries have even launched TV commercials of it.

You were all set to invest in the application space to expand your product line. Elaborate.

We tried but haven’t made the benchmark yet. We were looking at investing 10-15 million in application and advertising space. Techzone is all set to ride the technology wave to ensure supremacy in cut throat VAS technology space to emerge as a clear innovation leader in line with the organization philosophy of change leadership through path breaking technology in VAS and this time through application route. Advertising in addition will provide teeth to ensure widespread reach to end users and will render this whole approach a winning combination.

How is your presence in the international music market?

About two years back, we wanted to consolidate international music which was very scattered in terms of the content rights and more. The consumers in India were angling more towards international music also so we took the consolidated rights from Sony, Universal and more. The regular course of action was packaging the content on WAP which is event, artiste performance and live event based. If you see any telco now, there will be atleast five options for the consumer to select international music.

We also took into consideration the frequency of downloads and their trends and found the consumer content intake was pretty good. So then we launched a portal called Playground which is aimed at a complete international music store. We consolidated all labels under one roof and today we have around four lakh customers per month. We have a band of unlimited high quality songs for about Rs 99 for a month from a repertoire of about 30,000 popular songs.

With rights to so many music and video titles, how is digital piracy affecting you?

We are not facing it on the mobile platform atleast primarily because a telco has a close-guarded approach. But an hour back, I did get a message about some pirated content of my own content coming to me. I was quite alarmed when I saw that. Yes piracy is there, not by industry people but by outsiders and it can be plugged unlike the open internet model where to catch a pirate is quite difficult.

You also had a tie-up with Sunburn for its WAP page. What new you aim to get for users this year?

Last year Sunburn was quite a close call and we couldn't exploit it as much as we wanted to but this year we have already got into action four months in advance and since its complementing the international music content that we have, so every customer buying a ticket will get a link to activate and download unlimited music for seven days free of cost.

Have you tied up with any channels for content distribution?

We have tied up with NDTV, India TV, Radio City, Chennai Live and now there are two more in the pipeline. With NDTV, there was a lot of unused archived content like interviews of Benazir Bhutto before she died, Musharaff and more which were not used on the digital platform. We package and offer this content to the consumers. Packaging took a lot of time. We failed many times where consumers were not accepting the content and then we understood what kind of content the consumers were actually looking out for. Content wise its pretty niche but its not so as per the consumption levels.

We broke the Radio City deal into two parts. The first was to give the station a call to action medium on the mobile platform which is on SMS or IVR which they are using extensively across all their 20 stations to get consumer feedback. The second is that they have premium content on their popular RJs and aired programmes which we are going to make available on the mobile platform. We have already roped in a comedy show from their Chennai station to start with. So similarly, we will take a hit show from each of the stations and make it available for the consumers on the IVR platform.

What is the partnership percentage?

As the partnership deals with every organisation is complicated and requires in depth- study, I would not like to comment on any of the agreement.

Being one of the leading players of VAS, where do you see the service in the future?

I think now is the perfect time for content to speak out. Earlier we used to just take content and span it across to the consumers without any research on the consumption. Now the industry is completely changing where the product team has changed it's perceive value from push based to pull based so all our products are keeping in mind with the strategy to allow consumers to come in and discover the content. It will take a little while till the penetration happens but then this is the way out completely.

Ring back tones have been the highly used service by most mobile users. How do you further aim to monetize on the aspect?

Earlier it was a push based model where I packaged the content with the help of some messages and pushed it out to the consumers. There the problem was the consumer who is receiving the call or message was not the consumer wanting that particular content. If today you dial your network's IVR number and try to listen to the song of your choice, you will have blown all your money off and still haven't got the content within 20 minutes. What you will be able to reach is other content which you don't want. If you want an RD Burman song, for namesake you will be able to reach out the regular 10-15 songs on the portal. That is where the difference is right now. The content has been decided without keeping in mind the pan India consumer. Actually why its happening is primarily the reason, if you take any telco today, the person handling the RBT portal is not a product person.

How has the growth been in the CRBT space?

The growth from January has been marginal month-on-month. So typically the penetration of paid content can be about 7-10 per cent in some cases or on CRBT platform. So with this penetration there could be a growth of around 2-3 per cent. We are not attributing this growth to action growth. We currently have around 35-40 per cent consuming latest content, 15-20 per cent for retro content which is the pre-80s era, 15-20 per cent for 90s era, 20 per cent of regional content is consumed and around 2-3 per cent of international music content.

So is bollywood music still ruling over regional music market?

Bollywood music is a largely dominant factor in the areas where bollywood rules. If you go to Tamil Nadu, the regional content will be dominant there. In places like Kolkata there wasn't much of regional content penetration, it was just about 5-10 per cent. But today, Kolkata has started making films which are at par with bollywood to some extent. The content is good and the production is getting better so you are automatically seeing the usage penetration being better on Bengalis. Bollywood is dominant in metros like Mumbai and Delhi. On a pan India basis, if around 45 per cent downloads are bollywood, 35 per cent are regional in cumulative total and this is going to change because the regional market is getting better in terms of content creation

You had earlier announced a celebrity management initiative using the mobile platform. What is happening on that front?

We started off with one artiste in the South and today we are handling about five artistes, three from the south and two in north and now we are teaming up with one of the leading artistes in bollywood as well. The deal is yet to be finalized though.

What is the kind of exclusive content that is being offered to users?

We take the artiste's content in about 4-5 fashions on the SMS, WAP, IVR and RBT platforms. So the artiste becomes like a movie and we package our content around them. For the south star Namitha, we have created voice blogs on IVR which is a common product. We have also done one unique app for her where there are some standard 15-20 still images of her in different clothes and poses. We understood that people want to get clicked with her and so through this app user on the android and iOS platforms they can enable their camera and click their image which can be merged with the image of the artiste and made to believe that they got clicked together.

What are the returns you attain from this service?

In the first year, we couldn't expect to make the kind of revenues that we had expected to make primarily because it was a learning curve for us. The second year is just going on for us and I think we should just break even. But the big advantage is that we have got experience now and know what to do ahead.

What are the current acquisitions up for Techzone?

We are not acquiring any content right now as we need to justify the content on-board. There needs to be total exploitation of the content that we have picked up. We can keep adding content but until I justify the use of the content, the partnership will be unhealthy. It's more about qualitative content being offered.