March 22, 2011

Ringback Tones

By Delynn Ho, VP Sales

Ever find yourself snapping your fingers, bouncing your head or even singing along as you listen to a friend's mobile ring a familiar tune? Or perhaps you find your colleague's ringback tone to be especially annoying? (No offense, Hisham!)

What's a ringback tone, you ask?

Well, if you need to ask . . . . alright, actually, it's OK. Ringback tones – the tunes you hear when you dial someone else's number – haven't quite taken off the way telcos had hoped when they were first launched globally about seven years ago.

But the melodies still comprise a market segment where telecom companies have a unique advantage.

Unlike ringtones, which can be downloaded and played from your phone, ringback tones rest on the carrier servers, so only a telco or licensed partner can sell the product.

In the US, Verizon Wireless is promoting a ringback tone “jukebox,” that holds up to 100 melodies and can be easily customised by consumers. Each ringback costs about US$2 for a one-year license. Users can specify different ringback tones for each day of the week, hour of the day and for specific callers or groups of callers. For example, if your boss calls at night, you can programme the jukebox to play “Workin' 9 to 5” but if your boyfriend rings, he'll hear “Are You Going to Kiss Me or Not” (by Thompson Square).

Pop tunes and movie anthems are among the most popular ringback tones. According to RealNetworks, “Love the Way You Lie” by Eminem and Rihana topped the US ringback charts in 2010; in China, the most popular ringbacks were the theme song to the drama “My Queen” -- “No If” by Fish Leong – and “Sorry Sorry” by Korea's boy band Super Junior.

A different genre of ringbacks – advertisements – is also striking a chord with consumers chasing free airtime. A Pepsi campaign in Turkey generated more than 25 million calls from five million users, according to Juniper Research, which expects brands to spend upwards of US$780 million a year on ringback campaigns by 2015.

Telecom companies see proprietary content like ringbacks as one way to draw people back to the carrier portals. But to do this, they now realise the need to advertise off-portal, placing banner ads that target their competitors' user base as well as their own.

Several companies -- including Vodacom in South Africa, Idea (India) and Telkomsel (Indonesia)-- have started to just that, by leveraging on the BuzzCity Ad Network.

(Check out this link on the IDEA website, by the way, to listen to top ringback tones in 16 Indian languages.)

In "Telecoms Go Off-Portal," I take a closer look at how carriers are now shifting strategies and engaging in mainstream mobile marketing campaigns to promote services and attract new customers.