Cell phones meet radio in Vancouver start-up

Radio is about to marry with the ubiquitous cell phone – creating a TiVo-like personal subscription service for radio listeners, called CelleCast.

"You’ll never again have to say ‘I missed that’," said Andrew Deal, founder and CEO of the Vancouver-based new company.

The concept’s kernel is "audio on demand," where radio listeners create a personal profile, choose what radio programs they want to listen to, and when they want to listen to them. Basically, users will become their own program directors.

Following the trends

Deal said that in 2004, several converging trends set him on the path to developing CelleCast, due to launch in June:

• People want to control their media, such as through podcasting, TiVo, YouTube, and Comcast On-Demand.

• Consumers want an interactive experience, such as blogs and call-in talk shows.

• Mobility of entertainment is growing, as exemplified by MP3 players and iPods.

• The telecommunications industry is maturing.

• Market analysts are predicting this advertiser market will be worth $5 billion by 2012.

• The radio industry is interested in reaching new markets.

CelleCast merges technology and culture, backed by a well-thought-out business plan. Deal said he and private investors have spent about $200,000 on developing the business, and he is currently shopping the business plan to local and California-based venture capitalists. He is also negotiating partnerships with major radio networks and cell phone companies.

"We have a strong revenue model for radio content providers," said Deal. "They are incentivized to promote the technology."

In addition, Deal has studded his board of directors with leaders from the radio industry, to ensure his company moves in the right direction, and has filed for a patent on his call-processing methodology.

Phased roll-out

Deal plans to roll out CelleCast in two phases. Phase one includes basic features, such as trademarked TalkBack, which enables users to text-message radio talk show hosts and station directors, conference calling and interactive advertising.

Phase two includes more types of on-demand programming, such as music and traffic and weather reports, as well as new target audience groups. Deal envisions corporations and city governments using CelleCast to connect with their employees and constituents. For example, a company could buy a subscription to CelleCast and use it to send voice-based updates and announcements. Government entities could use it to alert people to public meetings, reducing their exposure to lawsuits surrounding "insufficient notice."

Deal said the average CelleCast user will be college-educated, 35-plus with an income over $70,000. Most will be white-collar executives or decision-makers and, of course, avid cell phone users. Deal said CelleCast will implement an easy-to-use, voice-based interface.

First to market

Deal said he has little "head-to-head" competition, although a few companies offer podcasts over the phone, and Clear Channel Communications (partnering with Cingular Wireless) is offering a text-messaging capability to a few selected New York radio stations.

Satellite radio, too, is not really a direct competitor. With satellite radio, said Deal, you have to "buy before you try," while with CelleCast, there is little initial outlay. CelleCast offers an ad-based free model, where programs are interspersed with mobile advertising, and a $9.95 per month ad-free package. With both, users pay for minute-usage on their cell phones. Deal said he hoped next year to be able to offer a $19.95-per-month plan that allowed users unlimited minutes.

The real Deal

Andrew Deal is no stranger to the entrepreneurial world. In 2000, he launched CGI Productions, a local web application development firm, and he’s been involved with the Internet industry since 1995. In 2001, Deal founded a missionary organization to reach the nation of India through leadership development, and lived there with his family for two years. While in India, he opened a branch office for CGI Productions; the branch office and the organization are both growing at 20 percent per year.

Until the fall of 2006, Deal served as Technology Director for AdsForFree Inc./Coracle Inc. and for Flyer Plus Inc.