Rock in Your Pocket
By Tim Bird, Wed Sep 19 00:00:00 GMT 2001

Good news: when your favourite band hits the road, you can hit it with them.

You want to know what they're thinking as they travel between gigs? You want a hint of what's on their minds, to second-guess what might be on their next album? Or you simply enjoy the thrill of feeling a little bit closer to your top artists?

Providers of mobile entertainment, such as Finnish-based Riot Entertainment (RIOT-E), which has launched new services involving two of Finland's top international pop acts, have you in mind. The acts in question are techno whizz-kid Darude and the broody metal band HIM led by the charismatic Ville Valo.

These services involve the supply of ring-tones, icons, logos and picture messages via GSM networks, ordered by short text message service (SMS) or through RIOT-E's website. RIOT-E sees this kind of service as part of a wider aim to "combine music and mobile entertainment in a new way". Creative Director Jani Halme elaborates:

"The mobile phone is not just an apparatus but plays an important and inseparable part of a young European's lifestyle. The Darude and HIM services enable the end-user to personalize their phone and create the feeling of a continuous relationship with the artist. It is a new way for admiring the stars. You used to have their poster on your wall, but today you can have their logo on your mobile phone. You are also part of a certain community when you personalize your phone with a logo or a ringtone."

The kids are all right

Halme confirms that this particular service is pretty much exclusively for the kids. While icons, logos and ringtones are hardly novel concepts, he sees the Darude and HIM deals as thresholds that will pull young users in and make them receptive to more innovative services on the horizon.

"Teenagers are the most eager ones to use any value-added services in their mobile phones," he says. "They are opinion leaders and use the services more than, for example, businessmen."

Getting close to the fan base seems to be a genuine aim of the artists. "I think that different forms of mobile related applications might be good to promote a band or an artist," says Darude, aka Ville Virtanen.

"I'm using the ring tones and logos already, but there are many other things you can do too, like using the SMS messages to write and update a tour diary on my web site, for example. And we are thinking and planning a few things that we might try later on, like choosing some people from the Darude mailing list, and sending special messages to them."

Darude believes that the boundaries are coming down between different technological media. "I think that mobile phone media and TV and the Internet are very close to each other today, and in the future they might be the same thing," he says. "You could have access to the same things via your laptop or palm device or phone or TV."

Interactive contact

The best is yet to come, he says. "I'm looking forward to the next generation, or the one after that, of mobile phones with good quality video and audio. That should open doors to 'on-demand' things, for example. It would be easy to set up a live chat wherever I might be and broadcast it on TV, Internet or Palm devices. That's something I think the fans would love: live action, an inside view of the artist's life, the backstage things... and it would be interactive."

Darude is a pioneer in this field, but he's not alone. The Terra-Mobile-iobox portal, for instance, also got in on the rock act earlier this summer when the Finnish rap artist Paleface provided seven SMS text messages to fans in a "live channel" relating his "experiences, feelings and ponderings". The same portal had already launched similar projects in Europe with singer Kylie Minogue and British band Blur, due to be extended to Finland in the autumn.

It is hoped that users of these services will go on to discover other mobile functions and entertainment, such as its real-time result channels for major sports events and its dating service. Meanwhile, the musical options multiply almost daily: the latest iobox offering is the latest video single by British band Radiohead, Knives Out, on Pocket PC or Nokia 9210 Communicator.

For its part, while continuing to develop more sophisticated options for other mobile platforms, RIOT-E is concentrating on SMS-based services because, according to Halme, "that is the technology most commonly used at the moment. Text messaging is huge, with 727 million users and 20 billion mobile text messages per month in early 2001. It is estimated that there will be 1.7 billion users in 2005."

Whether it is based on SMS, WAP or Palm platforms, entertainment is the key content for mobile phone users, thinks Jani Halme, and it will generate business worth as much as USD 6 billion within the next few years.

This, he says, will be generated by charges that vary from one market to another. "Our business model is based on revenue sharing, but we cannot say the exact percentages of how the revenue is divided. The service benefits all the parties involved because mobile entertainment and branded content in general is the key thing."

The HIM service, now running in Austria, Finland, France, Germany, Spain and the UK, like the Darude option, requires no local variation, since the content is mainly visual, although a HIM mobile diary is next on the list of launches. Fans can also download as a ring tone the band's single Pretending, taken from their new August-release album, Deep Shadows and Brilliant Highlights.

At the heart of HIM are Ville Valo's delicate good looks and desperate vocals - he comes on as a cross between a vampire and a 19th century romantic poet: a difficult image to convey, in other words, by means of a mobile hand set. But still, the kids are keen on making the connection.

Driven to Distractions

Other forms of interactivity in entertainment have been explored by the Distractions portal, which was awarded the WAP Forum WAP 2000 Award for the best use of WAP in customer applications. Distractions provided the means for rock and pop fans to vote for their favorites in the British MOBO awards using WAP mobile phones in 2000. The service also provided voters with real-time updates on voting results during the MOBO ceremony.

At the time of the awards, Distractions provided fans with a MOBO Flow wireless challenge quiz, which allowed them to collect Distractions "frequent user" points that could be redeemed against the purchase of special promotional offers and digital products.

The WAP-based MOBO promotion was one item on an impressive catalogue of entertainment quizzes and voting events offered by Distractions, covering sport, music, fashion, beauty and show business. Postcards and jokes, along with graphic and audio games, are also in Distractions' pipeline.

The main incentive attracting the fans, though, is the core content: that is, the music. So will the wireless Internet be a significant and widely used channel for music distribution in the future?

Darude thinks so. "It is already that now, although not that wireless - and not that legal, yet. I believe that as soon as the record companies find a convenient, cheap and safe way to distribute music in the Internet, people will start using that. What I've found is that not all users of Napster-like applications are looking for free music, they just don't have good music stores around, and/or they just find sitting at home and downloading stuff a better alternative. Most people would be willing to pay for their favorite music as long as they don't have to worry about the safety things."

Tune in for a series of mobile entertainment related stories appearing this week!

Tim Bird is an English journalist who has been living in Finland since 1982. He has learned to like his mobile phone, but likes to think that he can resist becoming a slave to it.