Desperately Seeking Ringtones
By Carlo Longino, Tue Aug 24 21:45:00 GMT 2004

Madonna has launched her own mobile content download shop. Is the Material Girl setting another celebrity trend?

Artists selling ringtones and other mobile content through their Web sites really isn't anything new, particularly in Europe, but Madonna's people and the company providing the technology for her new download shop say it's the first time a musician has set up such a site without any record-label involvement. Of course, that's got more to do with the fact that Madonna's one of the rare major mainstream artists that controls their own music more than anything, but it could signal the growing importance of mobile marketing, promotion and content for celebrities.

Celebs and mobile phones are well-acquainted. Handset vendors and carriers regularly throw parties and pass out handsets in the hope that a star will get pasted on the cover of People magazine carrying their phone. Messaging communities like Upoc are filled with channels promoting bands, and phone maker Wildseed has tried selling phones with special celebrity skins and content. But few celebs have thus far used mobile phones to actively build up their personal brand -- something that could be quickly changing.

So how long is it before Madonna sets up an MVNO, selling die-hard fans phones with Madonna-ized faceplates, wallpapers and ringtones, with messages or voice greetings from the star, and perhaps even soon music downloads to the device? Something along the lines of the Jay-Z Black Phone, but with star-branded service too. More and more virtual operators are popping up all the time, with successful operators like Telmore selling their expertise and technology to enable easy entry, particularly from firms that could set up a white-label MVNO and buy airtime in bulk from a carrier, then set up as many different brands as it liked, adding them quickly and easily?

Such a system would also be in line with the disposable nature of mobile content -- just like when kids replace their ringtone when it gets old and uncool, they could swap their service from celeb to celeb. Madonna doesn't do it for you anymore? Switch over to Michael Jackson or David Hasselhoff, or whoever else the MVNO signs up, letting the user change brands without switching providers, since they're all under the same white-label MVNO.

On the other hand, the David Bowie ISP hasn't made a lot of noise lately...