JoongAng Daily. June 8, 2004
By Yum Tae-jung, Wohn Dong-hee
Korean companies, already world leaders in mobile phone exports, are now looking at exporting cellular phone content.
Diverse ring tones, connection tones, and mobile karaoke are all popular segments of Korea’s mobile culture. Elsewhere, however, such services are not mainstream. In the United States, for instance, cell phone service providers sometimes offer ring tones for promotions, whereas in Korea there are numerous small companies whose sole business is to create unique tones.
“The ring tone market in Korea is almost at the saturation point, hence companies are turning their eyes overseas,” an industry analyst said.
Although export figures for content are minuscule compared to mobile handset sales, companies are excited at the huge potential.
Last December, SK Telecom signed a $1.5 million contract with SMART, a company based in the Philippines, to sell a system that would support “color rings” for 500,000 subscribers. Four months later, it received additional orders for a system that would support 1.5 million subscribers.
“Color rings” are the connection tones that the caller listens to before the other person answers the phone. For a small fee, cellular phone users can subscribe to a color-ring service provider, which offers sounds ranging from popular music and jokes recorded by comedians to all sorts of miscellaneous sounds such as car honks, water drops, or animal sounds. The choice of the user’s color ring is considered a reflection of his individuality and uniqueness.
SK also plans to export such services to Indonesia this month, and is already offering services in China. KTF, meanwhile, will try to break into the European market, joining hands with Samsung Corp.
In the past few months, about 10,000 new subscribers in Zhejiang, China, have signed up every day for bell tone services offered by Omnitel, a Korean cellular phone bell tone provider.
“In China, most phones only offer the conventional ‘ring ring’ sound, but we offer music or other sounds,” said Choi Young, Omnitel’s foreign business director. “When including other parts of China that we don’t keep statistics on, we estimate that tens of thousands of people apply for unique ring tones on a daily basis.” The company “exported” sounds until this year, when it established a dedicated branch in mainland
Yahoh Communication exported mobile karaoke contents and technologies to Mexico last April. “Central and South Americans love music,” said Son Hee-young, a director at Yahoh. “One of the major mobile service providers in Mexico bought the mobile karaoke system itself, to develop it into core content.”
“It is hard to find mobile contents as advanced as Korea’s in other parts of the world,” said Park Sung-chan, chairman of the Korea Contents Industry and Business Association.