Digimon Launches Talking Avatars

Toei Animation Co., the Japanese creator of Digimon, is allowing fans to create — using their own voices and words — personal talking avatars based on several Digimon characters. The avatars can be e-mailed, embedded on blogs, and placed on social networking sites.

The talking Digimon avatar program uses New York City-based Oddcast’s Voki speaking-avatar creation platform. Oddcast says its platform is currently used by more than 9,000 businesses and “tens of millions of consumers” worldwide.

With Voki, Toei is enabling Digimon lovers to upload audio content for 10 Digimon characters. The audio can come from stored files, via phone or the platform’s text-to-voice system. Although Voki is for non-commercial use and largely free, there will eventually be micro-fees of somewhere between $1 to $2 for the Digimon application, said Oddcast CEO Ari Seidman. There are currently no fees during what Oddcast is calling a “four-month introductory phase.”

“It’s promoting the Digimon brand in the United States and it promotes Voki usage, which is our consumer-facing brand,” said Seidman. “Also, from a financial angle, users can download these avatars to their phones. You can have a Digimon ringtone and you can specify what you want the avatar to say and then download it to your mobile phone. So there’s revenue generation that way.”

Seidman also noted that Voki is an ad-supported platform. For example, when users embed a Digimon avatar to their blog, an ad will play alongside the talking avatar. The ads are sold by Oddcast.

There will be 10 Digimon avatars available for personalization including Agumon, Masaru, Gaomon, Thomas and Kudamon. “What’s exciting for me is that here is a brand as famous and exciting and stellar as Digimon and…they are allowing users to have their own personal Digimons on Facebook, MySpace, and blogs and even use their own voices to speak through these characters,” said Seidman. “This is really kind of revolutionary in the sense of allowing personalization of the brand.”

Acknowledging that many companies are fearful about enabling consumers to alter brand icons, Seidman said Toei is different. “I think that Toei Animation is a really forward-thinking company,” he said. “They’re embracing the concept of user-generated media and embracing marketing through making these characters available for users.”

Seidman said abuse of the avatars is prevented through an online flagging system; users can flag inappropriate avatars. He also said Oddcast has a “back-end review” system in place where all avatars are scanned.

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