Monday, November 23, 2009

India call centre, ver 2.0 (beta)

Cellphone Entertainment Takes Off In Rural India
"A villager waiting for a bus has nothing to do. When he wants to kill some time, this is the only entertainment media available." "I call it the poor man's iTunes," says Mahesh Prasad, president of Reliance Communications Ltd., one of India's largest cellular companies.

Despite its rapid modernization, many of India's 750,000 villages remain isolated except for the cellphone reception that now blankets almost the entire country after a decade of rapid expansion by operators. So in villages that don't receive any FM radio stations, people have begun calling a number that has a recording of Bollywood tunes and listening to it on their headsets.

The cricket fan without a television or radio can dial up and listen to the latest match live on his phone. Bharti Airtel Ltd., India's largest cell company by subscribers, has a special service that calls hundreds of thousands of farmers every day with recorded messages of weather reports and advice about crops.

In the town of Behror in the state of Rajasthan, there is no regular radio music broadcast, so 60-year-old farmer and music lover Balwant Singh Yadav says dialing up his favorite music has been a "lifeline."

"I used to walk 10 to 15 kilometers just to listen to Hindi songs being played at marriage parties and other local functions," he said. "With the cellphone, the latest hits come handy. I can tune in any time I'm free." He said he spends about $1.50 a month on the music service.

Tata Teleservices has a service which lets farmers use their cellphones to control the pumps that water their crops. For the religiously devout, Bharti Airtel is starting a service where users can hear live prayers and chants from popular temples, mosques and shrines.

"Our religious offerings work the best," says Raghunath Mandava, chief marketing officer at Bharti Airtel. "There is nothing like getting the original prayer from the place of worship."

And, so, India becomes more and more like America, and is the call centre of the Universe, as we know it. The medium is certainly the massage.

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