Analysts see 'ringback tones' part of a $40 billion industry

"Ringback tones" are about to turn into the single largest mobile entertainment revenue source, overtaking mobile ringtones by 2010, according to a new study by analyst group IDC.

If major record labels are looking for new sources of revenue, maybe they should throw more of their efforts behind mobile phone "ringback tones.

According to IDC, ringback tones -- tracks that people hear when they call you -- are set to become the single largest revenue source for mobile entertainment over the next two years, overtaking conventional ringtones.


On the whole, mobile entertainment is expected to account for 5.1% out of a total of $800 billion (with a "b") in global wireless service revenues that IDC is projecting by 2011.

Downloadable ringback tones are already widely available on the Web from a variety of sources, including cellular carriers ranging from Verizon Wireless and Sprint to smaller regional carriers.

One of these smaller carriers, a Kentucky-based company named Bluegrass Cellular, suggests on its Web site that, "for just a $1.99 annual fee per ringback tone and a $0.99 monthly subscription," you can "delight, tease, or exasperate your friends and family with personalized ringtone fees...Choose a different song or clips for every caller, and change them as often as you like."

Yet on their Web sites, carriers don't seem to tend to stipulate their own costs for acquiring the ringtones and ringback tones.

Many -- but not all of -- the ringback tones downloadable online are musical. "Comedy" and "celebrity voice" tones are also available, for instance. For the more economically minded, some sites offer "free ringtones," although often, some sort of subscription fee is involved.

Generational issues don't appear to play as much as much of a role with ringtones and ringback tones as some people might think. People over the age of 30 or 40 might not recognize names such as "Flo Rida" and "Lupe Fiasco" which pop up on Verizon Wireless' top ten list. But if you do some searching on the site, you can find ringtones taken from tunes by Elton John, The Police, and even The Doors and The Byrds.

You won't come across a ring tone from The Beatles or a Rolling Stones classic hit, however, except for clones by tribute bands.

Ringback tones weren't always all that popular with everyone. In a message board from 2005 archived on the Sprint Users Forum, some customers referred to them at the time as "stupid" and "immature."

Is it possible that, at this point in time, some customers might still resist downloading and using these tones, even if some are totally free?

CORRECTION: Please note our corrected headline, which gives the proper estimate as projected by IDC -- ringback tones themselves will not constitute an $800 billion industry. That was an error introduced in the editing process, for which BetaNews apologizes.

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