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BET has begun embedding text-messaging codes into its music videos, encouraging viewers to order a download of each song's ringtone directly from their mobile phone. While such cross-marketing is a common practice in Europe, this is the first time a U.S. video channel has integrated mobile messaging on air to sell ringtones.

According to BET CFO Scott Wills, about 50 percent of the music videos the network airs now contain a 10- to 30-second pop-up note that prompts viewers to "get this ringtone" by sending a text message to the short code "BETTV." Each prompt features a different product code that must be included in the message to identify the desired ringtone.

 
Polyphonic and master ringtones are available for $1.99 and $2.99, respectively. The service also includes wallpapers and mobile games. Wills says artist-specific interactive fan clubs will be added before the end of the year, with full-song downloads coming in first-quarter 2006.

The service is powered by mobile content and technology firm Motricity, which provides the content, secures the rights with labels and publishers and manages the billing relationship with carriers. While each sale takes place without involving the carrier portal, the cost of each ringtone will appear on buyers' mobile phone statements, and wireless operators get a small cut.

BET is also working with U.S. carriers to add a BET Mobile application to viewers' phones for ringtone sales sans the TV.

FIRST AMONG CHANNELS

Among U.S. music-video channels, MTV promotes ringtones on air but directs viewers to its Web site to download them. Fuse, meanwhile, operates several interactive text-messaging services with its on-air programming, but they are limited to music requests, dedications and trivia games, not purchasing and downloading.

These networks may be missing a key revenue opportunity. Ringtone provider Jamster, for example, advertises on all music video channels with ads featuring clips of popular music videos and instructions on how to download the associated ringtone to the phone. The company, which runs as many as 30 ads per day, reports a sales spike of between 20 percent and 30 percent after each one.

Not all U.S. wireless operators support messaging-based, off-portal sales -- considered the primary factor behind the delay of music channels to embrace such selling opportunities. While subscribers to Cingular, Sprint and T-Mobile can begin using the BET service immediately, Verizon, Nextel and Alltel customers must wait until the first quarter before those carriers convert to a system that supports it.

Jamster parent company VeriSign expects MTV and other music video networks will follow BET's lead in the coming year and hopes to provide the back-end technology and services necessary to do so, like Motricity does with BET.

VeriSign already powers these types of services for several music video networks in Europe.

"We think there will be a large increase in TV networks delivering this kind of content in shows," says Dan Mosher, director of content services for VeriSign. "We see a large opportunity there."


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