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Posted by Dave
Rap News Network
8/22/2005 11:16:04 AM

Tags and topics realted to this article include Ludacris.

You call a friend and wait for her to answer. But instead of the familiar r-r-r-ring sound, you hear something strange: Marvin Gaye's "Sexual Healing" or Elvis Presley's "Love Me Tender."

Don't be alarmed. You haven't dialed the wrong number. You've simply encountered your first ringback tone.

T-Mobile USA Inc. and Verizon Wireless have both recently introduced services that allow subscribers to select the sound their callers hear while waiting for an answer. Sprint Corp.'s wireless division also plans to start selling ringback tones by the end of the year.

The carriers and record companies hope ringback tones will be as big of a hit as those singsong cell phone ringtones, which have become a $4 billion business. But some analysts are skeptical that consumers will understand or embrace ringback tones.

Julie Ask, an analyst at Jupiter Research, tried out Verizon's service in April and tracked the results on her Web log. Many of her callers hung up without leaving a message, she wrote.

"I'm happy to report that my mother only called four times before giving up," she said after using a ringback tone for nearly two weeks. "She finally left a message at the office and suggested that there was something wrong with my phone."

But once her friends understood the service, many wanted their own ringback tones, Ask said. She eventually ordered two more because friends said they were getting tired of hearing the same song each time they called.

The wireless industry and the music industry both have big incentives to make ringback tones a success. As cell phone minutes have gotten cheaper and less profitable, the wireless industry has been looking for new services to sell over their networks.

Record companies are also troubled by slow growth and could use a new way to sell their music catalogs.

Wireless carriers acknowledge that callers find the tones disconcerting at first, hearing a pop song instead of a ringing sound and thinking they've dialed the wrong number.

"It's still very much in the early days," said T-Mobile content director Michael Gallelli.

T-Mobile gives subscribers the option of recording a short message that plays before their ringback tone, instructing callers to stay on the line. Verizon's ringback tones include a similar message by default, though subscribers can opt to remove it.

"It just lets the customer's caller know that this is what it is, so they're not hanging up," said Bill Stone, a marketing vice president at Verizon Wireless.

Gallelli sees ringback tones as one of the most distinctive, personal ways available to customize a phone. Since the subscriber is selecting songs for callers to hear, the subscriber becomes a DJ of sorts, spreading the word about new music or old favorites.

The T-Mobile and Verizon services allow subscribers to designate specific ringback tones for certain callers. A subscriber could, for instance, select a Frank Sinatra tune for her mother and an Usher jam for her boyfriend.

Like ringtones, callers can select ringback tones that are quirky, catchy or just annoying. Gallelli said he selected Kansas' "Dust in the Wind" for a friend as a joke, since they've long shared distaste for the song.

"When people hear a song like that, it produces a memory. When they hear it, they think of a time they shared together," he said. "It's not just the same experience for every person who calls."

Ringback tones made their first big splash in 2002 in South Korea. About one-third of wireless carrier SK Telecom's subscribers signed up for the service in the first year, according to consulting firm Ovum.

The service has been slower to catch on in Europe and the United States, analysts say.

"Ringback tones have been quite a failure to date," said Andrew Cole, who leads the communications practice at consulting firm A.T. Kearney. "The amount of revenue has been quite small, and carriers are scratching their heads to

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