Waaayy back in 2008, ringback tones were music to the ears of the telco industry. The ringback tone (RBT) market in the U.S. had just peaked at $200+ million, and analysts were predicting global sales of $4.7 BILLION by 2012. Somewhere along the way, however, the dreams of ringback billionaires got disconnected as RBT sales in the U.S. steadily plunged. Last year, AT&T quietly pulled the plug on its ringback tone (RBT) service in the face of growing consumer disinterest.
Overseas, it’s another story as RBTs are still popular. Subscribers in regions such as Asia and Africa view ringback tones as an important way to personalize the communications experience by sharing music and video with their friends, colleagues and even strangers. Why this tale of two RBTs? Consumer access to audio and video is part of the reason. In the U.S., downloading full-length music and videos on mobile devices is big business; consuming them in five-second snippets as ringtones, not so much. In regions where mobile audio and video consumption is limited, on the other hand, audio/video ringtones have more appeal.
But before U.S. subscribers write off the ringtone as a short-lived novelty, what we may be witnessing is simply a period of hibernation between innovations. Redmond Software anticipated such an innovation years earlier when it unveiled its Ring-Back Tones Solution at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona. At the time, Redmond Software saw video ringback tones as uniquely suited to video calls, which today are growing in popularity with younger subscribers. As these subscribers age, video ringback tones could enjoy a resurgence—just imagine what could be done with YouTube memes, for example.
Another market opportunity that Redmond anticipated involved advertising-driven ringback tones. For example, advertisers could pay subscribers (in cash or free data/minutes) for each ringtone impression of their video ad. With the high cost of many wireless plans, ad-subsidized telephony has a nice ring to it.
The future of ringtones will depend as much on service providers as subscribers. RBT vendors need solutions that support real revenue generation for service providers. Redmond’s solution, for example, includes tools that simplify billing, track pricing royalties and support personalization so subscribers can assign ringback tones to specific individuals or scenarios. RBT solutions also require robust media services interworking to ensure that a variety of media and devices can come together; an area where the Dialogic PowerMedia HMP platform excels.
While video ringback tones are unlikely to ring up billions of dollars in sales anytime soon, the market could bounce back in a big way if advertisers get behind it. And that would be something to see.