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Ring tone downloads on the rise

Almost a quarter of all U.S. cell phone owners have downloaded ring tones, up from 5 percent a year ago, a new study says.

The number of American mobile-phone services offering ring tones and video clip downloads is rising rapidly, new research shows.

Almost 23 percent of mobile-phone owners--around 30 million people--have downloaded ring tones to their mobile phones, while 5 percent did so in the previous year, a study by Ipsos Insight found.

Ring tone purchases differ from online-music buying in a few ways, the study found. Though it is not the case with PC-based music downloads, older customers are attracted to ring tone services, the research firm said. People are also paying more to download a ring tone of a song than they would pay for the song through a service such as Apple Computer's iTunes. Almost 78 percent of mobile phone users paid to download a ring tone, while 50 percent of PC user report having paid for standard song downloads, the study said.

"This represents yet another opportunity for industries looking to monetize U.S.-based digital-music distribution. Through a combination of increased ring tone availability and the desire to personalize one's mobile phone with their favorite or the most popular rings, the growth in this already burgeoning industry will likely continue unabated," Matt Kleinschmit, vice president at Ipsos Insight, said in a statement.

The study said 6 percent of mobile phone owners have reported having downloaded full songs to their mobile phones, though that type of service is not available widely yet. And a small number of mobile users are also trying out ring backs, short video clips and music videos.

This, Kleinschmit said, suggests that users may be seeking mobile content options beyond music-related offerings and points to the potential for success with broader multimedia-related services that could be offered with distribution partners. Mobile-service providers already have a billing relationship with the consumer, which gives them an advantage over PC-based content delivery methods, where cumbersome registration and payment processes can discourage impulse purchases.

The ring tone realm is not impervious to piracy, however. Another recent study found that cell phone users may be downloading ring tone previews from the Net and illegally converting them into full-length ring tones for free. Ring tone previews on Web sites of some service providers, it turns out, are not fully secure.