With TTS, Santa Can Call Your Kid

GetABBY, a vendor of virtual assistants and call center technologies, launched a special Web site for the holidays that allows parents to schedule a personal phone call to their children from Santa and his elves. Proceeds from the voice-enabled service will be donated to a number of charities.

Parents who visit the site, www.talk2santa.org, can enter the child’s name, list the gifts Santa will be bringing, select the date and time for the automated call to be delivered, and choose the type of call to be made from a list of three choices: “Santa’s Wish List,” during which the children can tell Santa what they want him to bring on Dec. 24; “Personalized,” in which Santa’s message can be tailored to the child; and “After Christmas,” that let’s the children thank Santa for dropping by their houses on Christmas Eve.

All the calls use a blend of prerecorded audio—featuring the voices of Santa and his elves—prepared by GM Voices, and GetABBY’s own text-to-speech (TTS) engine.

“Just sending out one voice blast to everyone is not very interesting or exciting, especially not to a 4- or 5-year-old,” says R.F. Culbertson, chairman and CEO of GetABBY. “You have to personalize it a bit.”

While the Santa voice is standard, dialogue entered through the Web site is interjected into the conversation by TTS in the voices of elves, or, in some cases, Mrs. Claus. “We couldn’t match Santa’s voice, timbre, and pitch, so we get the elves into it with TTS,” Culbertson explains.

The Santa voice, he says, is really quite convincing. “It’s a fascinating voice, one that could definitely sell a kid on this.”

Jay Steinworth, senior account manager at GM Voices, agrees. “It’s really quite well-done," he says. “We are quite proud of the voices. We put together a good mix of voices with the elves and what-not.”

According to Steinworth, the Santa voice talent is quite busy this time of year, recording eCards and the like. The same actor has done the voice of Santa for many years.

And while the service is geared toward children, Culbertson says the real goal of the offering is to help nonprofits raise money during these tough economic times.

Calls are just $1.99, and proceeds from every call will be donated directly to charity. Users can even select their charity from a list that includes the Make a Wish Foundation, the Susan G. Komen Race for a Cure, Ronald McDonald House, Adopt America Network, A Place Called Home Youth Center, Dream Factory, Project Hope, Sunshine Foundation, Mommy’s Light, Milton Cat Snippers, Operation First Response, or the TMJ Association.

“Our goal is to raise between $1.5 million and $2 million, to be split among the 12 charities,” Culbertson says.

Parents can schedule the calls through the holidays, and Culbertson has committed to turning over the proceeds to the designated charities by Jan. 15. Though this is the first year that GetABBY has taken up such a calling, Culbertson anticipates similar fund-raisers connected to other holidays, such as Valentine’s Day, Mother’s Day, Father's Day, and Easter. “We’ll probably be calling GM Voices in a couple weeks asking for the voice of Cupid,” he says with a quip.




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