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TouringTalkies: Personal movie screens on buses

Millions of people in India travel on buses every day. Often, they have to settle for whatever movie or songs the bus driver / company wants to share during the journey. TouringTalkies, a Bangalore based company has created a personal entertainment system that allows personal choice in various genres and language:  Movies, television serials, news feeds, music, games, books and the internet.

Imagine an hour into what you expect to be a long bus journey and suddenly the screen begins playing a movie that you've seen or hate. Worse, imagine it being in a language you cannot understand. Wouldn't you like it if you got could pick what you wanted to watch or listen to? A Bangalore based company called TouringTalkies is working with numerous bus operators to provide passengers the option to choose their own entertainment. You can choose from movies in various languages and genres, music, news, books to read, games to play and internet access.

Touring Talkies started about three years ago when co-founders Thejaswi Gurumurthy and Naveen Krishnaswamy discussed how they were forced to watch whatever the bus operator chose to play when they were on individual bus journeys. Gurumurthy and Krishnaswamy felt that this was a common problem and perhaps they could come up with a solution. They put their combined ideas and expertise to conceptualise TouringTalkies and iPES (intelligent Personal Entertainment System), to provide legal, personal entertainment to passengers after getting seed funding by US-based Syven ventures.

Speaking to Explocity, co-founder Krishnaswamy explained the need for better travel experience, "Recent developments in bus technology have brought about significant features to improve travel experience. The new Volvo and Mercedes buses have multiple axles, ergonomic reclining seats, toughened window glasses, on-board toilets and powerful yet quiet engines. Essentially, the travel experience on a bus is similar to that on an airplane. While passengers on airplanes usually have access to personal entertainment, this has been largely missing for bus passengers. The TouringTalkies iPES meets this market need."

Monitors are mounted on top of each seat. They are attached with a flexible component that can be bent as per your convenience, even if the person using the seat in front of you, decides to lower it. Touchscreens enable you to choose from the content. In the case of sleeper buses, the screens are mounted on the side-walls of the bus and people can choose content by using a remote control or a wireless mouse. Content is pulled to each screen from a central server installed in the bus. Internet access though has its ups and downs as connectivity on the move remains a problem in India. The iPES uses a datacard installed in the bus to enable internet access, but there is little guarantee of it connecting if the bus is too far from any tower range.

Hygiene is a cause of concern for several travellers and hence we asked if TouringTalkies changes each earphone after every journey. Krishnaswamy said, “We have left that for the bus operators to take care of. We insist that they provide customers with fresh set of earphones or instruct each customer to bring their own earphones.”

The market is ostensibly huge. We asked Krishnamurthy the estimated scope for TouringTalkies. He said, “India’s bus industry makes over 50,000 buses and coaches every year, making it the world’s second largest market. Approximately 1,000 high-end luxury buses are deployed every year. At present, these luxury buses form TouringTalkies’ primary target market. As fleet owners upgrade their aging fleets, we expect more luxury buses on India’s roads, broadening our primary target market size.”

There are a large number of non-luxury bus travellers too. We wondered if TouringTalkies was looking to reach to them too. Krishnamurthy agreed saying, “We have also made inroads into the non-luxury and sleeper bus markets by installing lighter versions of the TouringTalkies iPES product. The TouringTalkies product family now contains versions that can be installed on all types of buses in the transportation industry.”

Speaking about how responsive fleet owners have been, Krishnaswamy said, “Fleet owners have reacted very positively. Our platform currently runs in over 40+ buses that ply different routes across India.”

TouringTalkies also is in regular talks with various content providers Krishnaswamy explained saying, “We currently have a content leasing agreement with a major Bollywood movie house. Discussions are on to obtain content from regional content providers for movies, songs and TV programs. We are on track to obtain and offer a vast, curated and well organized content library to customers on a high-quality, touch-screen device.”

Designed to be highly scalable, the iPES architecture is based on open technologies and the on-board content server uses Java, J2EE and web services. The touchscreen device runs on Android and the installation can be remote controlled from the TouringTalkies command centre.

Krishnaswamy knows that constant iterations and development are key to enhancing a product and hence has conducted close interactions with fleet owners. “We have fine-tuned our flagship product and offer several versions to meet customer needs and price points. Our product comes with full installation, comprehensive warranty and extensive support, which gives fleet owners the confidence to work with us. We continue to improve the hardware and software on the platform, and we have released several new feature upgrades in the recent past.”

Speaking about challenges, Krishnaswamy said, “We have a common tendency to fiddle with things. This can damage a product. I believe when more bus operators adopt our product and more customers get to use it, they will understand the value it brings to each of them.”

“What does the future hold in store?” we asked. Krishnaswamy said, “We intend to expand the installed base iPES. Several passenger-friendly features should be rolled out in the coming months. We are also in the process of implementing a business intelligence module that will capture passenger demographics and content view statistics for data analysis. The long-term goal is to provide benefits to all the participants in the value chain; fleet operators with additional customers, passengers with additional entertainment options, and content owners with an opportunity to monetize their content. We also intend to explore additional revenue streams from advertisements, content sales, geographic expansion and products for other mass-transportation systems.”

As he signs off, Krishnaswamy said TouringTalkies is what it is today because of their team and the support of the bus operators.

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The TouringTalkies co-founders:
Naveen Krishnaswamy: Manages sales, technology and operations in Bangalore. Has a Bachelor’s degree in Engineering from Mysore University, and an executive MBA from IIM Bangalore. Before taking up TouringTalkies full time, he was heading engineering for RedBus. His past experience includes stints at Wipro, CoreObjects, GE Power Systems (US) and Blue Slate (US).

Thejaswi Gurumurthy: Manages finance and strategy from the US. Has a Bachelor’s degree in Engineering from Mysore University and an MBA from NYU’s Stern School of Business. He is a CFA Charter-holder. He is the co-founder and COO for Syven Global Services, and a corporate finance Instructor at Training The Street. His past experience includes positions at UBICS, IBM and Aditi Technologies.