Animated Talking Characters - Interview with Oren Levy of Oddcast - SitePal
Animated talking characters are visual, cartoon-like talking personalities that can be easily embedded into any type fo web site or service to provide extra assistance, introductory information or guidance to those accessing that page.
Animated talking characters have been around for quite a while now, having seen their first commercial application on the web as early as in 2002 thanks to a company that has been innovating and consistently breaking new ground in the area of visual interactive communication.
Animated talking characters can provide a very effective communication channel with site visitors and prospective buyers by being able to provide audible information in a friendly and visually attractive format that it is still relatively rare to see on the web.
It is also true that the online video revolution we are witnessing today is very likely going to rapidly steal an increasing number of customers from services that will not rapidly add or differentiate their animated character offering to include also video-based character creation. But for the time being, thanks to many of the technical intricacies that still come with the world of video and podcasting production, animated talking heads may still have a growing market for some time to come.
Talking avatars and animated site characters can be put to a great number of good uses, raning from welcoming visitors and explaining what your site is all about to giving specific step-by-step instructions on how to set-up your latest downloadable tool.
Yahoo Messenger, in my humble opinion, remains an undisputed leader in character based avatar creation tools with a genuinely excellent interface and design style, that I would much like to see innovated upon across some of these animated character creation sites.
For all these reasons and more I have decided to go back to that very company who set, at least in my eyes, the path for making animated talking characters a truly effective and worth looking at marketing communication solution. The company is called Oddcast and its flagship product, Sitepal, is the animated character that you can see showcased here below.
Here is my good conversation with Oren Levy, Executive VP of Oddcast, who has very kindly spent nearly 30 minutes explaining, describing and recounting what are the traits and features that have made Oddcast the premier animated character service, nonetheless a rapidly growing competition.
Download the original audio recording as an .mp3 or simply press the "Play" button here below to start immediately listening to this interview.
The avatar of Oren Levy
Full text transcript of Robin Good audio interview with Oren Levy, Executive VP Oddcast.com.
Robin Good: Hello everyone. Here is Robin Good, live from Rome in Italy, and today I am with Oren Levy, Executive Vice President of Oddcast. Good morning to you, Oren. How are you today?
Oren Levy: Hello Robin. I'm doing great. It's a beautiful day here in New York City.
Robin Good: Fantastic. But let me immediately introduce you to my readers and listeners, because probably from your name and the company name, not many bells are going to ring up. And let me therefore visualize for them, these wonderful, animated characters, which are basically the product that Oddcast has been serving to the market for a number of years now. Yes, you've heard me correctly: animated characters that also speak and talk and present products that can be placed on websites for companies and organizations to use in many different ways. Am I portraying your company correctly, Oren?
Oren Levy: Yes, Robin. This was a good introduction to Oddcast, and I'll add a little bit more about the company. It's seven years old; it was founded in 1999. The company has a lot of products that have to do with user generated media, and in the past three or four years, as you have mentioned correctly, we are focused on the avatar platform that is used today by more than 5.000 businesses all over the world.
Robin Good: User generated media. That reminds me that Oddcast has a really valuable fascinating background. That is, the origin of Oddcast, is to me somehow even more interesting and still attractive to some of their present, very innovative products. So let me just for a few minutes, bring everyone back in time to some of those original things. Oren, do you want to share a bit for what you've been able to live - I don't know if you've been there during those times - of those original products, that really leveraged user generated content?
Oren Levy: Sure, I'll be happy to. Some of those legacy products include video mixers, and audio mixers, and karaoke stations, and photo mixers. So, for example one of the early implementations we did for video mixer was for a contest for Toyota consumers, that they would generate a video ad for TV, and the winning user would get a Toyota as a prize. So, they used our video mixer platform to create this contest, that it's all about user generated media.
Robin Good: So the videos were provided by who? By Toyota or by the users themselves?
Oren Levy: Toyota provided the basic materials for the videos, but they user had a lot of control and functionality to add their own touch to those media content.
Robin Good: In any case, if you want to learn more about some of these, I still believe truly fascinating original products, that quite a few years ago Oddcast brought to the market, go to www.oddcast.com, that is Oregon, Delaware, Delaware, California, America, South Tennessee - Oddcast.com, and on the main navigation horizontal bar on the top, select "Products" and then "Media mixers", and learn more about this stuff, which I really find valuable and still inspiring for many of the new media technology developers, who I think have a great deal to leverage from these niche application. You guys have all abandoned this type of use, or you think of taking this back to some new and more up to the times innovative applications?
Oren Levy: We still sell those legacy products. They're not our main focus, but for example Coca Cola is still using our audio mixer, and we've recently enabled that audio mixer with the ability to obviously mix an audio, but also send it as a ringtone to your mobile phone. Another recent example is when we did a campaign that's still going on for Cheerios. It's called Cheerioke, and the Cheerioke took advantage both of our avatar platform and our karaoke platform. So you record your own song, and you send it to a friend, or place it on the message board, where you can listen to other people that have recorded their own karaoke songs and rate each other, etc.
Robin Good: Excellent. My compliments. Those are really honorable products and innovative ideas which, again I believe, will find still a lot of the space in the market and have many diversifying applications that can still be developed. But then Oddcast pointed right to one specific application. Do you know the story of that, of how that came to be? I mean what was the inspiration to say, "Let's go with this very thing"?
Oren Levy: Sure. It goes back to your question about who delivered the media. And we thought, what would be a product that users can generate content, without being dependent on a third party to deliver that content. If you remember, in the Toyota example, Toyota had to provide the users with some raw material. So we thought about avatars, and avatars anybody can design, and they can add content by just simply adding an audio, either using their own voice, or using text to speech.
And the way that we tested it was we created an application, that was basically placed on the web, where people could dress up George Bush in different ways and we added some audios that he recorded in the past you could also change his appearance, backgrounds etc. And it was placed on the web on a Thursday afternoon, and when we came back after a weekend, Oddcast was bombarded by a lot of incoming calls and emails. And one of the first companies that expressed interest in this avatar platform was the government of Canada, which was basically our first avatar technology customer.
Robin Good: Why? What did they want to do with it?
Oren Levy: The government of Canada had some websites that were targeted at teenagers, and they thought that the avatar platform and the talking avatars could be a great way to engage these teenagers, and deliver the messages that they wanted to deliver to them.
Robin Good: So let's explain it clearly to anyone who has not seen and experienced your product yet. If you're not able to go to www.oddcast.com right now, and see one of these little boxes, in which there is an animated cartoon that apparently is looking at you while you look at the screen, what Oddcast has created is a number of tools and services by which companies, large enterprises, or individuals and small organizations, can create a custom personalized animated character, with the look and feel of the face, the dress, the accessories that they like, and make these characters say in whatever language they want - you will help me on this one - whatever they want to say and this can be done, in two ways. One is by recording your own voice that will go in lip-synch with that animated cartoon, and the other one is by inserting, typing a text that will be digitally converted into speech, whenever the character will speak.... Please, Oren, give me comfort that I was doing pretty good.
Oren Levy: I think it was a very good explanation of the audio input capabilities, and those are the two basic options. I want to go back though to your question about how do these companies use it, and I think its a good time to approach that. So we have today about 200 enterprise level clients that use it for viral marketing, for example we've recently did a campaign for CareerBuilder.com. It was called "Monk-e-mail", and where the consumers could choose the monkey, design it, add background, and add their own personal message, or use one of the pre-recorded funny messages and send it to a friend. And that was a very successful viral marketing campaign for CareerBuilder.com. Some enterprises are using it in a very tactical way, like McAfee and Rentacar.com, where the use is to promote a specific product, or a specific promotion, and increase conversion and sales in a specific area of the website.
Other enterprises use it for e-learning, or internal corporate training. We have some clients like J. P. Morgan Chase and Children's Place using it for those kind of applications. In terms of online marketing, we also have customers that use it for rich media ads. So, for example, Vonage used it in their rich media ad campaigns. And we've got many more other customers like McAfee also using it in rich media ads, and Killington Ski Resort, etc. And we can go also into the small business applications; I'll give it back to you, Robin, to let me know how... If you want to elaborate on the small business as well.
Robin Good: Absolutely, absolutely. Yes. How do you see small businesses, professionals, independent newsmakers, or even bloggers today? Could bloggers specializing on reporting on some specific industry, topics, and news, how they could take, for example, take advantage of your technology?
Oren Levy: Sure. Let's focus first on the small businesses, and then I'll touch upon Oddcast's consumer initiatives, that we're undergoing right now. In terms of small businesses, we're using a different brand, and we call it "SitePal", like a friend of the site. SitePal is a product for small businesses: it's a self service product, where a small business, for example, a real estate agent, a travel agent, an eBay seller, can come to our website, put in their credit card, and for as low as $10 per month, subscribe to our services.
And what can they do? As you can see on the screen, if you have access to the screen, you can design a character, add an audio, and publish it to your website, and they do it within minutes. And the uses, again, are to place an avatar on the website. It helps the small business owner or executive to extend their personality online. Many of the small businesses are associated with a specific individual, and this is their way to continue the personal communication and personal touch with their visitors. So, as I mentioned, we've got small businesses using it for their website, as well as for eBay auctions. And maybe, Robin, the next step would be to discuss a little bit the consumer aspect?
Robin Good: Absolutely. Please feel free to go into that.
Oren Levy: So today we already have consumers - as you mentioned - that are interested in the SitePal product for their blogs. But the SitePal product was built for small businesses. So, today Oddcast is undergoing a lot of initiatives around the consumers, both for online communities, blogs, instant messaging, as well as mobile phones. I'll touch upon the web first. For the web, for example, Oddcast has a partnership with ICQ, the instant messaging provider. With ICQ, in less than a year, more than five million characters were created by different ICQ users; basically, the character represents these mainly teenagers in the chats that they undergo in the instant messaging. So for example, with teenagers in a chat, there's the avatar they created that represents them in the chat, and for example when they choose the happy face emoticons, the character says something funny.
So Oddcast is now very much focused on delivering these kind of products for consumers, either directly or through relationship with those communities that have either instant messaging, blogging, social networking solution. In terms of mobile initiatives, we have recently presented our mobile technology in CTIA in Las Vegas, where the main two applications that we show are messaging applications, through which you can send a message from the web to a phone, or from a phone to a phone, using an avatar. For example, you can type a text message "I'll be late", and the text will be converted to speech and delivered by an avatar. Another type of service in the mobile space is subscription services; for example, there are different types of information agents. So, instead of getting your horoscope in a simple text message, or the weather, or news, or sports results, in a simple text message, an avatar of your choice will deliver to you those services.
Robin Good: What would be the enhancement or the key benefits that the user would have when replacing a traditional text message with an avatar based delivery?
Oren Levy: In the messaging case, for example, first it allows for more self expression. You can design the character, and choose a character based on your own preferences. Obviously, you can add your own voice to the character. So there's that personal touch that doesn't exist in a text message. And in terms of subscription services it's more appealing to people to get, for example, a nice cheerleader giving you the sports result than a simple, dry text message. So it has a lot of appeal for consumers.
Robin Good: Great. You've given a lot of very useful information, and I think people will be excited to go out and try out some of these. Is there any opportunity for them to demo, or even try out in full some of this technology right now?
Oren Levy: Of course. First of all they can always contact us, and the best place to start is the website, www.oddcast.com. But, for example, if a small business or a consumer wants to try out, for example, our small business product, they can do it for as low as $10 a month, and they'll have access to our platform, and have an opportunity to play with the technology. And, by the way, we offer those small businesses a 30 day money back guarantee, so it can end up, you know, just to play with the technology can end up being for free.
Robin Good: So you're saying that tryout costs $10. There's no real way for people to try it out without having to shell out some money. Am I understanding that correctly?
Oren Levy: That's using our platform. But obviously they can use many of our viral marketing applications, like the CareerBuilder.com, or the one that we have, for example, on ESPN. That would give them exposure to the platform. What we have on ESPN, for example, is the "Voice of the Fan" application, and they will experience creating the avatars, adding their own audio, whether it's by phone, or microphone, or text to speech, and send it to a friend or post it on the message board; we also have those types of trying out demos on our website. Again, this is without direct access to the platform, but it helps... It allows you to experiment with the technology.
Robin Good: OK. That is good enough. We'll direct them there on those examples, and please if you can let me have some specific URLs where people could, you know, without having to browse through those major big sites, find exactly where they can log on to try out one of those implementations. Oren, that was a lot of great, useful information, and I really appreciate your time today. And I would like to leave it to you conclude for any reminder, URL, or special offer you want to underline to our listeners and readers today. From Robin Good, live here in Rome today, this is all for Oddcast and SitePal, two... Two [laughter]... Actually these are five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten great products that make animated, talking characters a reality for promotion, marketing, e learning, general new media awareness, in a new and innovative fashion. So, over to you, Oren. Thanks again for staying on with me today.
Oren Levy: Thank you very much, Robin. It was a great pleasure to speak with you today, and present Oddcast to your audience. As I mentioned, the best place to start is our website, oddcast.com; we can also be reached by phone at (212) 375 6290, in New York. And if you contact one of our sales people, and you mention that you came through Robin, we'll give you special treatment, and... Thank you again for the opportunity, and goodbye from New York.Robin Good -
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