Top of the Tones
By Carlo Longino, Mon Aug 23 18:15:00 GMT 2004

Orange funds a UK ringtone chart TV show, using the old medium to support the booming mobile music business.

Singles charts are a big deal in the UK -- the Top of the Pops chart show is still going strong after 40 years, and both the BBC and Virgin Radio (in conjunction with Napster) recently launched weekly download charts. So it really isn't such a surprise that Orange and Endemol, the producer of Big Brother, have linked up for a music show that, among other things, features a countdown of the most popular ringtones.

The weekly Orange Playlist show will launch next month, with each episode featuring a rundown of the singles and downloads charts, and have a celebrity guest doing a variation on the ever-popular desert-island disc theme. But the participation of Orange, which is funding the show, ensures that mobile phones will play a key role.

As album and singles sales shrink, a trend the record industry blames on file-sharing, ringtone sales continue to grow, particularly as more and more handsets that can play ringtunes, MP3s and other, more realistic (and expensive) tones get into the public's hands. More than a billion euros' worth of tones are sold on the continent each year, and ringtone sales and music downloads generate more revenues in the UK than singles sales.

Endemol will run Web and WAP sites for the show where viewers can download the featured tracks and tones, creating what could be a lucrative revenue stream for it, Orange and ITV, the broadcaster. But Orange is also hoping to use the program to stimulate interest in MMS, as users can send in text and picture messages to be displayed on the show.

This could prove to be a canny move for Orange, because it's making a very visible move to attach its brand to mobile music. In the short run, the show will sell some ringtones, but if the carrier plays its cards right and updates the show to keep pace with changes in mobile music, particularly downloads, and offers viable services in conjunction with it, Orange could become known as "the" mobile music operator.