MovieFone Voice Recognition

Callers to MovieFone, the nation’s largest movie guide and ticketing service, will soon be able to get movie listings and tickets faster and easier than ever by simply speaking into the phone. MovieFone, Inc. announced it will use speech recognition technology from Lucent Technologies to enhance its popular interactive service, known by familiar local phone numbers such as 777-FILM.

MovieFone is one of the largest interactive phone applications in the world, providing more than 100 million callers a year with a complete directory of movies, theaters, and showtimes, and the ability to buy tickets. Since MovieFone’s inception in 1989, callers have made selections using the buttons on their touch-tone key pad. The enhanced service, set to launch in New York in early 1999, enables moviegoers to select a movie by saying the title into the phone. Similarly, callers can enter other information like their zip code or credit card number by speaking into the phone. Callers who do not wish to speak their selections still have the option of entering them using their touch-tone keypad. The New York launch will be followed by a rollout to more of the 35 major cities MovieFone serves.

Letting moviegoers use their own voice to speak to MovieFone is a twist, since the well-known voice callers hear when they call MovieFone (e.g. “Hello and welcome to MovieFone…”) is a frequently imitated part of pop culture. The voice of Mr. MovieFone has been parodied on television shows from Saturday Night Live to The Simpsons to Late Night with David Letterman. In fact, in one of the most memorable episodes of Seinfeld, when Kramer’s phone number is changed to one that is just one digit away from 777-FILM, he is forced to spend the whole episode imitating Mr. MovieFone and providing unsuspecting callers with movie information.

According to Tom Jarecki, Sr. VP Operations for MovieFone, “Seinfeld’s Kramer said it best. When he couldn’t understand the selections callers were making with the buttons on their telephones, he asked, ‘Why don’t you just tell me the name of the movie you selected?’ Using Lucent’s speech recognition technology, MovieFone callers will soon be able to do just that.”

He continued, “MovieFone has always used innovative technology to make moviegoing more convenient for consumers. Lucent’s Speech Solutions will enable us to reinforce that principle by presenting a more fun and entertaining service for moviegoers while saving them time. Lucent’s long history in speech recognition gives us great confidence in the accuracy and reliability of the new system.” Designed by Bell Labs, the solution includes Lucent’s high-density speech recognition board and software to support advanced speech applications.

“Our goal is to make speech services ubiquitous by making them useful to the vast majority of consumers,” said Daniel Furman, president of Lucent Speech Solutions. “Working with MovieFone is an important step toward that goal.”

Lucent’s Speech Solution handles wide variations of voice pitches and accents, and its high capacity supports large vocabularies, easily recognizing specific movie titles. With the capability of recognizing spoken numerals, as well as different credit card types (Visa, MasterCard, and others), the speech technology also will be able to quickly process credit card transactions used to purchase theater tickets. The heart of the new technology is Lucent’s high-density speech recognition board, which provides an economical solution by supporting a large number of simultaneous conversations in a small space.

Today’s announcement with MovieFone adds to Lucent’s large base of customers using network-based speech systems, processing millions of speech transactions each week. In addition to scalable speech engines that include both hardware and software components for Automatic Speech Recognition (ASR) and Text-to-Speech (TTS), Lucent Speech Solutions include a full complement of speech applications. These applications, such as voice dialing, automated attendant, personal assistant, e-mail reading, and information access, all use 0natural language user interfaces.

MovieFone, Inc. is the leading media company focusing on the moviegoing audience. The Company’s primary products, the MovieFone interactive telephone service (e.g. 777-FILM) and [Movielink.com][1] on the web, comprise the largest movie listing guide and ticketing service in the country, providing millions of moviegoers each week with a complete, free directory of movies, showtimes, theater locations and the ability to purchase tickets in advance. The Company, which is celebrating its 10th anniversary this year, has received over 300 million calls and logged over 35 million online users. The Company’s services cover more than 14,500 movie screens in 33 cities around the nation, which account for over 60% of the nation’s movie attendance. MovieFone, Inc. is a public company with offices in New York and Los Angeles.

Lucent Technologies, headquartered in Murray Hill, New Jersey, designs, builds and delivers a wide range of public and private networks, communications systems and software, data networking systems, business telephone systems and microelectronics components. Bell Laboratories is the research and development arm for the company. For more information on Lucent Technologies, visit and [www.lucent.com/ideas2/innovations/lsps][2] for Lucent Speech Solutions.

[1]: http://www.movielink.com
[2]: http://www.lucent.com/ideas2/innovations/lsps

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Halloween – $5 Billion Industry

While a frequently quoted figure estimates Halloween sales at $2.5 billion, recent information indicates that figure may be way too low.  By the time sales from all markets are totaled, the actual figure should easily exceed $5 billion, according to The Halloween Association (THA).

THA breaks down Halloween sales into three categories: candy, costumes and all other items.  Candy, the largest single category, accounts for approximately $1.76 billion in sales.  Recently, this figure was adjusted upward from $950 million by the National Confectioners Association.  The lower estimate, based on scanned merchandise, was changed after industry officials recognized that much of the candy sold through seasonal stores, kiosks, convenience stores and smaller venues is not scanned.  Historically, Halloween has accounted for the highest candy sales throughout the year, according to the manufacturing group.

The second major category of sales, costumes, is estimated between $1 and $1.5 billion and growing.  With more adults celebrating the holiday than ever before, costume sales and rentals to them are fueling the growth of this category.  According to the 2nd annual Halloween Survey conducted by the National Retail Federation, 82% of children plan to dress up to attend parties or to go trick-or-treating.  Seventy-three percent of adults (up from 65% last year) also plan to participate in some kind of Halloween activity.  In fact, adult activities have multiplied to the point where 45% of all respondents to a recent American Express survey said they will celebrate Halloween on a level equal to or greater than last New Year’s Eve.

The third category, which accounts for at least $2.5 billion, includes all other Halloween sales — pumpkins, decorations, crafts, greeting cards, tie-in advertising programs, entertaining (in-home parties for adults or children), outside entertainment (seasonal videos, movies, bars and restaurant sales for special holiday promotions, etc.), and more.  According to THA Executive Vice President, Carol Shaner, “This number can only be estimated, based in part on the American Express survey which indicated that consumers will spend approximately 26% of Halloween dollars on candy and 23% on costumes, leaving more than half of Halloween dollars spent in the ‘other’ category.”

According to THA, this category is less well documented than the candy and costume figures, but definitely is growing.  Halloween decor, for example, was almost unknown ten years ago, but now includes light strings, wind socks and flags, pumpkin carving kits and accessories, pumpkin-colored leaf bags, and much more.  Any consumer who watches TV, reads the newspaper or visits a grocery store, discount store, drug store or mall can readily see the increase in the number of Halloween products and the amount of Halloween tie-in advertising.

Shaner thinks this estimated figure probably doesn’t include income generated by haunted attractions, which are proliferating, nor the money spent by such venues for props, lighting and special effects.  It also may not include purchases not readily identifiable as Halloween sales such as leotards, fabric or other costume-making supplies.

All types of sales are growing according to both the American Express and National Retail Federation surveys:  85% of those questioned reported that they will spend at least the same amount or more on Halloween-related purchases this year over last.  Among adults who plan to celebrate the holiday, 59% will spend up to 25% more, while 29% will spend up to 50% more.

The Halloween Association is collecting and disseminating financial and demographic information regarding the celebration of Halloween.  THA may be contacted at 3525 Ellicott Mills Drive, Suite N, Ellicott City, MD 21043-4547, phone 410-418-4800 and fax 410-418-4805.  The E-mail address is [tha@association-hq.com][1]. Information is posted, as it is developed, on the Association’s web site at [halloweenassn.org][2].

[1]: mailto:tha@association-hq.com
[2]: http://www.halloweenassn.org

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AmEx Consumer Card Head

American Express Company Tuesday announced that Alfred F. Kelly, Jr., 40, has been named President of the Consumer Card Services Group, effective November 1.

In his new role, Mr. Kelly will head American Express’ consumer card business in the United States.  He will also be responsible for the company’s Customer Servicing and Risk Management support for the U.S. card business.

In addition, Mr. Kelly will become a member of the American Express Planning & Policy Committee, and will report to Kenneth I. Chenault, President and Chief Operating Officer.  Mr. Kelly succeeds Phillip Riese, who is leaving American Express to become Chief Executive Officer of OptiMark Technologies, Inc.

Mr. Kelly was formerly Executive Vice President and General Manager of U.S. consumer card marketing.  He joined American Express in 1987, and has held a number of key leadership positions within the consumer card organization.  In those roles he has successfully led efforts to launch new products, expand rewards programs, reduce customer attrition, build credit card receivables and increase market share.

In announcing Mr. Kelly’s promotion, Mr. Chenault said, “Al’s broad knowledge of our card business, along with his exceptional leadership abilities, make him superbly qualified to take on his new responsibilities.”

Prior to joining American Express, Mr. Kelly was Manager of Information Systems at the White House, where he led data processing functions for eight of the 11 agencies that comprise the Executive Office of the President.  He also held a series of positions in information systems and strategic and financial planning at PepsiCo.

Mr. Kelly is a chairman of the Wall Street Charity Golf Classic, which is one of the most successful fund-raisers benefiting the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation.  He also serves on the Board of Trustees for Iona College.

Mr. Kelly received his B.A. and M.B.A. degrees from Iona College in New Rochelle, New York, where he was an adjunct assistant professor from 1980- 1985.  He lives with his wife and four children in New Rochelle.

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Smart Cards to Breakthrough

New technologies recently introduced will help the acceptance of smart card based applications by consumers by offering an improved transaction platform and functionality that matches the improved functionality of smart cards, said payment technology expert George Wallner, chairman and chief technologist, Hypercom Corporation.

“Smart cards hold the promise of benefits for consumers and merchants worldwide. But that much-heralded promise won’t turn into widespread reality until the industry delivers new programs consumers genuinely value and also upgrades with new point-of-sale (POS) technology that makes the use of smart cards quicker, easier and more convenient than is the case today,” Wallner said.

With vastly greater information storage and processing capacity than conventional magnetic stripe-based cards, smart cards are finding applications by banks as advanced credit, debit and stored-value bank cards; by healthcare companies for medical and eligibility records and authorizations; by telephone companies for pre-paid services; by universities as all-purpose student ID cards; by governments for benefits programs; by retailers for customer loyalty programs; and by airlines for “frequent flyer” membership cards, among other uses.

Of the more than 2.5 billion cards worldwide used to activate some type of commercial or personal financial transaction, fewer than 99 million are smart cards. In contrast, there are more than 650 million conventional magnetic stripe-based credit and debit cards in the United States alone.

“For consumers and society to reap the benefits of smart cards, an infrastructure must be in place that can not only “read” the embedded microchips in the smart cards, but also support the kinds of new programs that consumers value and that help banks and retailers differentiate themselves with advertising, branding and loyalty programs,” Wallner said. “Advanced POS technology and value-added programs must go hand-in-hand for smart card use to grow worldwide.”

The current generation of point-of-sale terminals, even when equipped with a “reader” for smart cards, do not have the necessary features, such as easy-to-use touch-screen interfaces and portability, and do not support programs like merchant advertising and loyalty programs.

A featured speaker at the Cartes ’98 smart card symposium, Wallner noted successful POS devices in the future will not only “read” microchips, but as importantly will be easily used by consumers, feature faster times for purchase transactions and deliver advertising messages while purchases take place.

In addition to new card payment devices that are easily handled by consumers and support faster connections, the payments industry must also put in “smarter, more powerful” software, typically running on a high-performance server, to handle increased payment volumes, distinguish between payment types and support enhanced security and value-added services, Wallner noted.

Celebrating its 20th anniversary, Hypercom Corporation is a global provider of electronic payment solutions, including multi-functional point-of-sale terminals, peripherals, network products, transaction software, Internet-based and electronic commerce payment solutions. On a global basis Hypercom delivers the services and technology infrastructure required to quickly integrate and deploy new payment applications for competitive value-add programs, improved business performance and low total cost of ownership.

Headquartered in Phoenix, Arizona, Hypercom markets its products in more than 60 countries through a global network of offices and affiliates in Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Chile, China, Hong Kong, Hungary, Japan, Mexico, Russia, Singapore, the United Kingdom and Venezuela. Hypercom’s Internet address is [www.hypercom.com][1].

[1]: http://www.hypercom.com

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Chenault on IBM Board

The IBM Board of Directors Tuesday elected Kenneth I. Chenault to the board. Mr. Chenault, 47, is president and chief operating officer of American Express Company.

Louis V. Gerstner, Jr., IBM chairman and chief executive officer, said: “Ken is an outstanding executive with a long track record of success. We are delighted to have him join our board of directors.”

Mr. Chenault has held a series of executive positions since joining American Express in 1981. He has served in his current position since 1997 and from 1995-1997 served as vice chairman of American Express Company. In addition, he has been president of the U.S. division of American Express Travel Related Services Company and president of that unit’s Consumer Card Group. Mr. Chenault is a graduate of Bowdoin College and Harvard Law School.

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Smart EMV

Bull also announced Tuesday in Paris that it is extending its ‘SmartEMV’ range with three new cards: ‘CC EMV’, ‘SmartEMV UKIS’ and ‘SmartEMV’ off-the-shelf.  The ‘CC EMV’ card is unique in combining all the functionalities of ‘Proton’ with those of the EMV payment applications. ‘SmartEMV UKIS’ meets the standards of the UK market, and ‘SmartEMV’ off-the-shelf addresses the Europay standard of the same name. By definition multi-application, ‘SmartEMV’ houses several applications offering a range of services on the same card. This means that issuers can load financial credit/debit or electronic purse applications. They can also rent memory capacity on the card to partners who wish to run other applications such as loyalty, administrative data, health files, and all types of portable data.

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NOVUS Goes Platinum

Among credit card solicitations hitting mailboxes this week is the new ‘NOVUS ‘Prime Option Platinum Card’. According to CardWeb’s ‘CardWatch’ service the new solicitation offers consumers a 4.9% intro APR until April 1999 followed by a long-term fixed rate of 14.9%. Similar to other ‘Platinum’ offers, NOVUS is dressing-up the card with a purchase protection, extended warranty, collision damage insurance, year-end account summary, choice of billing date, and $1 million of travel accident insurance. The offer also promotes a $25,000 credit limit. The card employs Discover’s typical two-cycle ADB balance calculation method, charges an $18 late fee/overlimit fee and an option prime +12.9% punitive APR. Discover tried unsuccessfully to launch a ‘Prime Option VISA’ card eight years ago which ended up as the subject of an antitrust trial with VISA. Later NationsBank agreed to issue a cobranded card with Discover under the ‘Prime Option’ name. CardWatch, launched in August, is a real-time monitor of credit card marketing featuring hundreds of credit card direct mail solicitations, 174 hotlinks to credit cards offered via the World Wide Web, 42 current print ads, 24 current TV commercials and 38 recent Internet banner ads. For demo and more info: [www.cardwatch.com][1]

[1]: http://www.cardwatch.com

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SiShell

Schlumberger unveiled ‘SiShell’, an innovation in smart card security which physically protects the chip from unauthorized access attempts. The ‘SiShell’ solution completes the security environment for smart cards by applying a shield over the active surface which is structured in such a way that physical attempts at access threaten to destroy the chip. This does not affect functionality in any way, but effectively stops attempts at hacking by mechanical or e-beam probing, affixing internal connections. The active surface of a chip protected by ‘SiShell’ is covered completely with a silicon cap which is sealed at the wafer production stage. The most likely first applications for this technology include pay TV, banking, health cards and corporate/network ID.

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MS Challenges VISA/MC

The “Windows-ification” of smart cards will challenge directly VISA, MasterCard and Sun Microsystems’ leadership positions in the industry but at the end of the day its main impact will be on the smart card manufacturers who will find their role greatly devalued in the supply chain. Frost & Sullivan said yesterday the eradication of the Java Card or Multos platform by Microsoft is unlikely because of VISA/MC’s strong brand identities and that the smart card industry needs the stamp of approval from VISA and MasterCard in the form of Java Card and Multos if it wants to succeed among banks. F&S also says in the end, Microsoft’s release of ‘Windows SC’ can only jerk the banks into faster smart card adoption, which is good for the smart cards industry overall. F&S says the industry will support a maximum of two, maybe three operating systems. The F&S analysts believe the release of Windows SC along with the developments of the Java Card and Multos platforms will open the smart cards industry to a new path of internationalization and interoperability, marking a new era.

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Advanta 3Q

Advanta reported yesterday that it picked up $350 million in business card receivables during the third quarter. Net managed charge-offs on business credit card loans was 5.79% for the third quarter compared to 6.57% in the second quarter. Advanta exited the consumer card business earlier this year, selling off its portfolio to Fleet. For complete 3Q financials and historical data on Advanta visit CardWeb’s CardData service ([www.carddata.com][1]).

[1]: http://www.carddata.com

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Self-Service Card Issuance Kiosks

The consumer-retailer relationship took a dramatic leap forward Tuesday when DataCard Corporation introduced its new line of self-service card issuance kiosks at Cartes ’98 in Paris.

The company’s new self-service kiosks will provide consumers with a convenient way to acquire financial cards, enroll in loyalty programs and access a variety of other card-based services offered by retailers, banks and other consumer-based enterprises.

“Consumers will be able to walk into a store or a bank, apply for a credit card, receive it and begin using it immediately,” said Keith Clayton, vice president, self-service solutions group for DataCard’s financial company. “The same holds true for loyalty programs. Instead of filling out forms and standing in line, consumers can apply for acceptance and receive cards instantly.”

“This benefits both the consumer and the retailer or bank. Consumers enjoy new levels of convenience, privacy and choice_and they get their cards immediately,” Clayton said. “Retailers and banks attract new customers and give consumers instant purchasing power while they’re in the store or bank.”

Clayton said a variety of large, consumer-based enterprises are working with DataCard to explore the benefits of self-service kiosks.

“Banks and retailers in Europe, South America and North America are looking for innovative ways to attract consumers and increase revenues,” Clayton said. “Our self-service kiosks provide them with the consumer-driven breakthrough they’ve been searching for.”

While DataCard plans to develop customized solutions for each retailer or bank, a typical kiosk is roughly the size of an automated teller machine (ATM). It features interactive touch-screen controls, full-motion video capabilities and a built-in card personalization system. Consumers will use the interactive controls to navigate a financial or loyalty program, complete an application and receive a ready-to-use card.

“From a consumer perspective, our kiosks are engaging, intuitive and fun to use,” Clayton said. “From the retailer’s or bank’s point of view, our kiosks are extremely secure and cost-effective. In fact, while the key benefits revolve around consumer relationships, the money an enterprise saves in card issuance alone can justify the investment it makes in a self-service strategy.”

“DataCard is exploring self-service kiosk opportunities with a number of solutions providers who serve the retail and financial markets,” Clayton said. “By teaming with other industry leaders, we believe we will be able to greatly expand our portfolio and bring a wide range of breakthrough solutions that enhance the consumer-retailer relationship.”

DataCard Corporation, a privately held company based in Minneapolis, Minn., provides customers around the world with fully integrated solutions for a variety of financial, identification and healthcare applications. In addition to turnkey solutions, the company offers complete lines of card personalization systems, digital photo ID systems, photo ID printers and transaction systems. ([www.datacard.com][1])

[1]: http://www.datacard.com

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Smart Cards for Windows

As expected, Microsoft announced yesterday a standards-based platform that provides secure storage for security, loyalty and ePurse solutions in the Microsoft Windows operating system. ‘Smart Cards for Windows’  features: a multipartition file system which physically separates data files so that multiple applications can safely run on a single card; access control rules which tightly control who has access to all the files on the card, as well as files off the card; and pluggable cyptographic algorithms which allow developers and customers to specify and design their own levels of cryptographic support and support for existing smart card standards. Microsoft was joined at the announcement at the ‘Cartes ’98’ conference in Paris by Schlumberger, Gemplus and others. CT-based ICL announced Tuesday it has formed a global alliance with Microsoft to develop applications for ‘Smart Cards for Windows’. Further alliances are expected to be announced this morning. A beta version is scheduled to be available in January 1999.

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