Singing Telegram App 'Ditty' Launches on Facebook Messenger

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Nicolas Asfouri/AFP/Getty Images

At this year's South by Southwest, the news broke early that Facebook was planning to incorporate third-party apps into its mobile Messenger platform. The announcement is officially scheduled for Wednesday's Facebook Developer (F8) Conference, where music creation service Zya will unveil Ditty, a singing telegram that Auto-Tunes personal messages to a select library of licensed songs and shares them through Facebook Messenger.

"We're thinking about use cases for music and ways we can harness this technology in new and novel ways," says Zya CEO and co-founder Matt Serletic, former chairman and CEO of Virgin Records and Grammy Award-winning songwriter and producer. "Everyone is able to communicate with music, so this is a natural evolution for people naturally able to type in the digital age. When did typing become musical?"

Zya, which launched in 2011, is a cloud-based platform that allows users to create songs from pre-existing tracks. With Ditty, the only music creation program to launch natively through Messenger, users can choose one of 26 songs -- 10 are available for free, 16 can be purchased for $.99 to use in perpetuity, licensed through Sony/ATV and EMI -- to soundtrack a personal message sent through Messenger.

Think of it as a singing telegram meets "Auto-Tune the News": Serletic's brother Dean, head of marketing at Zya, demonstrated to Billboard a text: "My flight was crazy late," set to a-ha's classic "Take On Me." As for the song selection itself, which is populated at the back-end with IBM servers that suggest songs once 70 characters are typed in, Matt says, "We do all the editorial picking what we think will be really exciting, fun, funny, emotional, whatever it may be. Our plan is to have a rapidly growing catalog." Right now their library includes OneRepublic's "Counting Stars," Sia's "Chandelier," and Cyndi Lauper's "Girls Just Want to Have Fun." 

Though this concept isn't without precedent -- personalized music-sharing apps are proliferating rapidly -- but Ditty has the advantage of launching through a pre-existing platform that already counts 200 million users as of last April. Serletic says he started the conversation with Facebook back in January about launching Ditty through Messenger even though Ime Archibong, director of product partnerships, had noticed what Zya was doing back in 2012. "It was sort of a shotgun wedding," Serletic says, admitting he may have missed the boat if he hadn't happened to call Facebook in the beginning of this year. "Our original plan was to launch this seven weeks from now, so we were working 18 to 20-hour days, squeezing 15 weeks of development into two." 

As for monetization, Ditty is still reaping the benefits from a nearly $11 million funding found when Zya first launched, and Serletic says they had an internal small round of funding recently. "Over the past year we've transitioned from a first- and second-generation tech company to a user- and consumer-focused company," he says. "The digital and mobile revolution has allowed us access to data rapidly and anonymously to help companies learn what users want. It's remarkable to watch what [Facebook] has been able to achieve in the messaging space."