"Elvis Presley is the greatest cultural force in the 20th century."

(Leonard Bernstein)


"If you're an Elvis fan, no explanation is necessary; If you're not an Elvis fan, no explanation is possible."

(George Klein)


"For a dead man, Elvis Presley is awfully noisy."

(Professor Gilbert B. Rodman)


"History has him as this good old country boy, Elvis is about as country as Bono!"

(Jerry Schilling)






Say hello to Elvis? Ringtones tap into a million-dollar market

Angela Landon's boyfriend calls her on her cell phone, and she's treated to the celestial strains of Handel's "Hallelujah Chorus." When it's her family in Texas calling, her phone plays the theme from television's "Dallas." NYC friends set off a round of "New York, New York." Pesky unidentified callers? She's warned with a snippet of Elvis' "Suspicious Minds."

Landon, you see, had become bored by the generic jingles programmed on her cell phone at the factory -- the reveille, the William Tell Overture, the Mexican hat dance. So she joined the army of consumers now spending $300 million a year, according to one market study, to download customized "ringtones" for their phones.

For wireless companies, it represents big money -- the next step in a technological evolution that has transformed the mobile phone into a personalized multipurpose gadget for talking to friends, surfing the Web, sending e-mail, snapping photos, and listening to tunes.

And for the music labels, it could mean a lifesaving foothold in the digital download market during financially troubled times. The industry takes this very seriously, so much so that Billboard magazine now tracks the nation's Top 20 ringtones, alongside its well-established charts for album sales and radio play. Most ringtones come as "MIDI" files: brief, synthesized versions of songs created especially for the cell phone market.

At $1.99 to $2.49 a pop, ringtones are actually costlier than downloading the original recordings from a service like iTunes or Napster. They're also, believe it or not, more popular: According to Billboard, in its first week tracking sales last month, the No. 1 ringtone, "My Boo," sold 97,000 units, whereas the No. 1 downloaded song, U2's "Vertigo," sold only 30,000. That surprised Billboard's editors, says Geoff Mayfield, the magazine's director of charts.

"With the download you get the whole song, the full dynamics and vocals, and you can play it as often as you want. With the ringtone you get 15, maybe 20 seconds of a synthesizer approximating your song. And yet the No. 1 ringtone outsold the No. 1 download by more than 3-to-1.

Considering the economics of it, and the value proposition, we were just stunned that it was so big." Explore the ringtones market, says Mayfield, and you'll quickly find that "it's a hip-hop world." Rappers Snoop Dogg, Lil' Flip, Chingy and Petey Pablo dominate the Top 10. Hip-hop artists have been the most aggressive in marketing themselves with ringtones.

Eminem offers a free ringtone of his single "Just Lose It" for consumers who purchase the double-disc collector's edition of his new album, "Encore." Sir Mix-A-Lot has signed an agreement with Versaly Entertainment to produce ringtones for the youth market, to be made available by most U.S. carriers. Ludacris, Kanye West and the Game joined forces to produce an original ringtone, "Anthem," for Boost Mobile (a division of Nextel); the song is featured in Boost's TV ads, and proceeds from its sales have raised more than $20,000 for youth organizations.

Also popular are TV and movie themes: "Sex and the City," "The Godfather" and "John Carpenter's Halloween." Latin music -- both rock and salsa -- is a growing market. You can even get your fix of Bollywood hits from India. For all the buzz about custom ringtones within the music and wireless industries, the trend is in its infancy as a mass-culture phenomenon.

According to a survey of cell phone users conducted by NPD, a market research group, only 14 percent of those who had phones with the capability to download ringtones had done so -- still a long way from market saturation. But as NPD's director of industry analysis, Ross Rubin, observes, "Improvements in technology are allowing manufacturers to enable these capabilities in more affordable phones. So today, even the free phones that you get from carriers will offer polyphonic ringtones," which produce harmonies rather than single-note melodies.

"Now on higher-end phones we're starting to see ringtones that are actual samples of the song. Different carriers have different names for them, but they're called things like 'true' ringtones." Here the United States is following the lead of Asia, where consumers have wholeheartedly embraced wireless communication. "It's ... been all the rave in South Korea, where millions of people have subscribed to ringback tones," explains Thomas Hesse, president of Sony BMG's global digital group.

"We see enormous potential and a great dynamic in the mobile market, and some of the markets in Southeast Asia are really showing the way." While Elvis tunes are popular they don't compete in raw numbers with today's tunes which are scooped up by teenagers.

And like Eimenen, EIN suggests BMG/Sony could offer a FREE Elvis ringtone to fans who buy the latest Elvis CD. (News, Source: Detroit News)












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Elvis Odd Spot (updated 16 Dec 2004)