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Operators sing all the way to the bank

When ring-back tones were introduced in India, it was just another value added service, but they are the single largest growth category today.

india Updated: Feb 28, 2006 12:25 IST
Press Trust of India
Press Trust of India

When the ring-back tones were introduced in India, it was just another value added service (VAS) based on music, but two years down the line, they are the single largest growth category today.

Coming under different names like, 'Hello Tunes' or 'Dialer Tones' depending on the operator, ring-back tones are customised audio pieces that callers hear when they dial a number, not the traditional ringing tone.

"The growth of this service continues unabated fast outpacing the current rate of growth in total mobile subscribers," says Mohit Bhatnagar, Senior VP, Airtel Mobile Services.

According to mobile operators, this is one service that has gained popularity amongst all sections of the mobile users. "Hello Tunes were adopted pre-dominantly by the urban youth, however it is difficult to classify a base as virtually there is every kind of mobile customer from a farmer in Punjab to an aristocrat in Lucknow and a housewife in Delhi," says Bhatnagar.

What makes the ring-back tones popular is also the fact that they can be had on any handset or connection (WAP/GPRS). "This is one of the reasons for the explosive growth," says Mandar Thakur, GM, Soundbuzz India.

"I would estimate there would be about 9-10 million ringback tone subscribers and in terms of revenue- the total turnover is around Rs 250 crore," he says.

Bollywood continues to rule the ring-back tones segment at around 60 per cent of all the downloaded tones, Rang De Basanti, Zinda, being the current favourites. Other popular categories include Indi-pop, devotional and pop songs. But the market is evolving.

"The ringback tones cut across socio-economic boundaries, geographies as well as classical divide between urban and rural markets. The only differentiation between these segments would be in the choice of the music," says Bhatnagar.

"I have customised tones for different callers. I have the latest Bollywood hit for my friends and some favourite English pop hits for others, and I change my tones atleast twice every month," says Rachna Shah, a mobile user.

It is in keeping with the changing tastes that Airtel recently introduced soft instrumentals based on classical Indian instruments aimed at the corporates.

Regional music is also a big hit. For instance, a person from North-eastern part of the country would be tempted to have a Khasi tone or some other regional tone making callers listen to the music of that part of the country.

And there are quite a few light hearted ring-back tones too, like dialogues from popular potboilers, mimicked voices, jokes and others.

Operators agree that it is a 'killer application' which can be exploited further.

While you play the ringback tones to let your friends know about you and your tastes, it is the operator who is singing all the way to the bank.

First Published: Feb 28, 2006 12:25 IST