Now That's Entertainment

Article Featured Image

From interactive horror movies to phone calls from comedian Bill Cosby, speech is helping the entertainment industry improve business in new ways, even during a recession. 

But even now as the economy starts to recover, movies and other forms of entertainment remain something of a luxury. Fewer people are actually going out to spend their hard-earned dollars on entertainment. So it’s no wonder why some entertainment businesses are finding new solutions to get customers back out again to the theaters or sports arenas. At the same time, many others are using the economy and the “staycation” trend to offer new and exciting home entertainment systems. In all of these areas, speech is becoming an efficient and less expensive way to encourage customers to get the most out of their free time.

Case in point: Creative talent Jung Von Matt/Spree from Berlin, the consulting team of Aixvox from Aachen, Germany, and the creator of the interactive movie player Power Flash have found an innovative way to get movie-goers back into theaters with the movie Last Call

This film creates an interactive theater experience in a variation of the “choose-your-own-adventure” format. A clip of the video experience shows a somewhat typical horror movie scene of a woman seemingly running for her life. Then something unexpected happens. She pulls out her cell phone, dials, and much to the delight of the audience, an audience member’s phone rings. When the audience member picks up her phone, the film’s protagonist asks a question—whether she should turn right or left, or go up or down the staircase. The audience member gives her response, and then the woman carries out what the audience member suggested. “You have the control over what will happen next, and in three or four cases she will probably die. Sorry, but it is horror!” says Detlev Artelt, head of Aixvox, who provided speech consulting for this project.

Artelt asserts that having control over any movie is interesting, but the horror genre takes it a step further because the audience member actually experiences the character’s fear. “[The audience member] is pushed into this situation and hears all the breathing and voices in his phone at the same time it happens in the cinema,” he says. “Yes, [it is] quite fun to do.”

Artelt, who worked on IVR systems in the 1990s, says doing this kind of movie also opens people to new possibilities with using speech on automated systems. “Business people get a higher acceptance level doing speech control,” he says. “Here in Germany the biggest problem is with change management.” 

According to Artelt, many companies didn’t want to use speech technology because they didn’t think it would work. Now that’s changing. “It took 10 years or even longer, and not many companies [were using] it because they think it’s future technology...but with examples like this, we [would] like to show that all this is not rocket science,” he says. 

Artelt hopes that projects like Last Call can help to give speech a better name. “It can be fun,” he says. 

Outbound Success

Vontoo, a voice broadcasting company that sends outbound voice messages on the behalf of its customers, has found success helping sports arenas sell more tickets. But getting messages out isn’t as easy as it used to be, says Brad Salyer, a Vontoo representative. “Because of the [do not call] regulations, you can’t just go out and send a message to 50,000 people like you could five years ago,” he says. “You have to get the customer to opt in.” 

One way Vontoo does that is with a video that requires users to enter their names before they can see it. “That has been a major push for the last year or year-and-a-half, helping these sports teams and franchises put together tools that will allow them to do what they did five years ago, which is to allow them to reach large numbers of audiences.”

After users have opted in, Vontoo will then send out automated calls. “First we decide who is going to record the call,” Salyer says, “and then the company figures out what kind of message—for example, notification or marketing—it will be. That’s what drives the message.”

Vontoo uses sports figures, coaches, players, and announcers to make the recordings. Celebrity appeal has yielded the best results for the company’s clients, Salyer says. 

Last December, Temple University used Vontoo to have comedian Bill Cosby, a university graduate and football player, record a call to get people excited about the school’s first college football bowl game appearance in 30 years. 

“Vontoo enabled us to reach our fans in such a powerful way,” Scott Walcoff, assistant athletics director for marketing and promotions, said in a statement. “Getting a call from Bill Cosby has not only delighted fans, but it has generated a great deal of buzz leading up to the game.”

For marketing calls, Salyer says Vontoo can build in the option for customers to press a button to be connected to a ticket representative right away. If the call is picked up by a machine, then Vontoo gives customers a promotion code so they can call later at their convenience. Vontoo is also able to tell how long a person stayed on the call, so it can measure success and make improvements as necessary. 

Because people are typically suspicious of calls from numbers they don’t recognize, Vontoo always starts out with a particular method that Salyer says the company has found successful. The first step is using a local area code. “If we can call from a relevant area code, it makes our [success rate] go up tremendously,” he says. Then, letting the call recipient know who is calling in the first five seconds is crucial, Salyer adds. “If you draw [the call] out and do music that’s great, but typically if it’s going to get drawn out over 10 seconds, people are going to hang up,” he says.

Salyer also says it’s important to let the caller opt out of further calls. “You basically have taken away all their excuses for why they wouldn’t want to listen to the call,” he explains. 

These calls are encouraging people to buy more tickets, but there are other business benefits as well. “Direct mail pieces are a huge production,” Salyer argues. “They cost $5, $6, or even $7 per piece. These outbound IVR call costs average out to be around 10 cents each and are also a way to go paperless for companies doing a green initiative.”  

IVR outbound calls were also helpful for selling partial season tickets to Major League Baseball fans. Three or four years ago, people were not buying enough season tickets, Salyer explains, so it became important for stadiums to contact customers quickly. 

“You can’t deliver any message better or more effectively than through using someone’s actual tone and words. Getting something with a stamp saying you’re the president somewhere doesn’t carry a lot of clout. [With voice] you can actually say, ‘Hey, we know times are hard. We’d love to have you come back out,’” Salyer says. “When you hear a live message you hear his tone and inflection. His voice can be empathetic or sympathetic to the situation. It’s a lot more human than getting a piece of paper that says the same thing.”

Even at Home

While some businesses are trying to encourage customers to go out again, others are helping them enjoy home entertainment in new ways. Microsoft’s release of the Kinect will be a unique addition to a home entertainment experience, especially because it is a communal activity.  Instead of going out, owners of the Kinect video game console can have friends over to play video games. 

“By using speech recognition, Microsoft is unlocking new communications and gaming experiences with Kinect. Kinect is great because it gives you two new ways to interact with your TV and with your friends. It really gets you out of your seat and moving around. What other speech system can actually teach you to dance like Kinect?” says Grant Shirk, director of product management at Microsoft/Tellme.

Shirk also points out that the Xbox 360 video game console will give customers access to media beyond games, including Zune for music, Netflix for movies, Last.fm, and Video Kinect conferencing. “It’s a more compelling entertainment experience and much easier for families to enjoy,” he says.

Nuance Communications says it will also be working to improve home entertainment. “We’re in discussions with several set-top box manufacturers and cable providers [about] enabling you to speak a particular show or time and have the TV guide jump to that point—just a very quick search by voice, by genre, by show title, by time, by category, by actor or actress,” says Matt Revis, vice president of product management at Nuance.

Revis also points out that speech will get people to their leisure activities faster and easier. Nuance provides speech technology for Siri, a voice search application that Apple recently purchased. “It’s a kind of concierge service,” Revis explains. “You speak into it and say, I want reservations for two in Boston tomorrow night, and it will list all the restaurants with availability for tomorrow night for two people.”

Whether it’s dining out or going to a game or the movies, speech is making having fun easier for everyone. 

SpeechTek Covers
for qualified subscribers
Subscribe Now Current Issue Past Issues
Related Articles

Speech Solutions for Media Makers

Speed-reading subtitles translate to lower cost, improved experience