Content Delivery >> Mobile Rah!
As the number of cell phones on campus continues to rise, many schools
are discovering newfound revenue by delivering sports-related mobile content
at a premium.
Get your pompons ready, because in 2006, campus football and basketball stadiums
aren’t the only place you’ll hear a school’s fight song. At
many institutions, fight songs are now playing all over campus: on the quad,
on the bus, in the cafeteria, and sometimes (though not the ideal situation)
even in class. Just about any place you’d find a cellular phone, you can
hear a school’s fight song in all of its rah-rah glory. Thanks to a new
and lucrative form of content delivery, the songs actually come from the phones
themselves, as special polyphonic ring tones that students can purchase, program
to replace the phone’s traditional ring, and play every time they receive
Students buy the ditties for anywhere from $2 to $3 apiece, and download them
from a variety of Internet sites. But that’s only part of the transaction.
Because the fight songs are licensed, colleges and universities receive a percentage
of every sale. Taken individually, these fees don’t amount to more than
10 or 15 percent of the total price. As thousands and thousands of students
sign up, however, colleges can see tidy new revenue streams. Rich Routman, VP
of Business Development at Collegiate
Images, one of the companies that licenses ring tone content, points to
the revenue possibilities.
“If two years ago, you asked a college student what a ring tone or wallpaper
was, they would have looked at you like you were crazy,” says Routman,
whose organization is a subsidiary of the Collegiate
Licensing Company in Ft. Lauderdale, FL. “Today, these kids simply
can’t get enough of the stuff, and colleges and universities are cashing
Though the mobile content business for higher education is still in its infancy,
opportunities surrounding mobile content delivery could be veritable goldmines
for colleges and universities. Those schools that have been licensing content
for some time have earned tens of thousands of dollars in a matter of months
since the industry took off in the summer of 2005. Other schools can’t
sign up for the services quickly enough; across the country, campus VPs and
marketing officials have been scrambling to get mobile content delivery programs
up and running before the fall football season ends and the big-money winter
basketball season begins.
Most of these deals are built around ring tones, still images (such as graphical-logo
wallpaper for cell phone screens), and video clips; the basic trio of mobile
content in higher education today. In some cases, however, trailblazing schools
are also inking mammoth licensing agreements for anything and everything: sports
scores via text-messaging, breaking news updates, sales on merchandise, and
more. Though these latter deals are harder to find right now, Mike Merrill,
chairman and CEO of content provider Smartphones
Technologies, says they may be more common in the not-too-distant future,
and that the sky’s the limit for what happens next.
“This is undoubtedly one of the most exciting industries in the world
right now,” he says, likening the mobile content business to a second
coming of the dot-com boom. “For colleges and universities, the possibilities
It’s no secret that there’s money to be made around college sports.
The National Collegiate Athletic Administration (NCAA) generates more than $2.7
billion in licensing revenue per year, exceeding both NASCAR and the National
Hockey League. Furthermore, college sports have the longest selling season of
any major sports licensor, starting in August and running through June. Add
to this the fact that six out of every 10 Americans own a cell phone, and that
college-aged Americans love buying high-tech gadgets and gizmos, and colleges
and universities have a great opportunity to earn big bucks delivering licensed
content to mobile phones.
Currently, there’s no bigger mobile content market than that of ring
tones. In 2005, global revenue exceeded $3 billion, according to Ispos,
a firm that tracks these trends. And US forecaster Jupiter
Research estimates that annual ring tone revenues totaled $417 million last
year, and will grow to $724 million by 2009. A recent survey by M:Metrics,
the Seattle market research firm, indicates that nearly 30 percent of all cell
phone owners between the ages of 18 and 24 have purchased at least one ring
tone. According to Mark Donovan, an M:Metrics analyst, no other demographic
group has embraced mobile content with such passion.
“These statistics indicate that especially among young people, mobile
phones are just another distribution platform for content and applications,”
Donovan says. “The medium is something that should be on the roadmap for
everyone, in terms of monetizing.”
In the consumer industry at large, the ring tone is quite literally ringing
off the hook. In 2005, the popular R&B singer Beyonce Knowles went platinum
selling ring tones alone, and rapper Eminem earned more money last year on $2
mobile downloads than he did on actual records. This past summer, Madonna became
the first major artist to set up a ring-tone “shop” on the Internet.
And in November, Billboard magazine even started publishing a list of best-selling
ring tones alongside its more traditional categories such as best-selling album
and top song—perhaps the truest and most earth-shattering acknowledgment
of the ring tone’s value as pop culture currency.
In the higher education environment, ring tones are doing just as well. While
no research firm specifically tracks mobile content in higher education, vendor
and analyst experts estimate that anywhere between 300 and 500 colleges and
universities are making money by selling this kind of mobile content, and that
the number is growing every month. Donovan notes that the higher education marketplace
has embraced other forms of mobile content too, including video clips and cell
phone wallpaper. In some instances, schools even incorporate text messages and
other alerts into their offerings (see “What’s Up Next?” below).
What's Up Next?
THE WORLD OF mobile content delivery is changing monthly. Today, most aggregators sell ring tones, still images, and video clips. Tomorrow, many of these companies will be supplementing their product offerings with text messages and news alerts that offer users upto- the-minute information on sports and other issues of interest.
Already, some aggregators have piloted this approach. Smartphones Technologies , for instance, recently rolled out a number of test projects revolving around Short Message Service (SMS) communications of no more than 140 to 160 characters per message. CEO Mike Merrill declines to specify where these trials are taking place, but notes that initially, the company will be broadcasting information such as scores, locker room reports, and more.
“Different schools have different desires, so as we figure out what it is that schools want to do, we’ll broaden the program a bit,” he says. “We’re trying to build flexibility into the program so our customers can use it as much or as little as they want to.”
According to Merrill, SMS is only the beginning. As the technology becomes more sophisticated, Smartphones and other aggregators ultimately are shooting for Multimedia Messaging Service (MMS), an enhanced transmission service that enables graphics, video clips, and sound files to be transmitted over mobile phones. Once this technology becomes reality, experts predict that advertisements will begin appearing on mobile content airwaves, as well.
Rich Routman, VP of Business Development at Collegiate Images , agrees, predicting that as more and more companies turn to MMS, the high-fidelity 3G Network that exists today (but is largely unpopulated) will become more crowded, both with legitimate traffic and with advertisements.
“I don’t think mobile advertising will relate to a ton of additional consumer product market sales, but it certainly will be present in the near future,” he says. How schools utilize these advertisements, he adds, is up to them. “One year from now, the mobile content industry could change again. That’s the beauty of it all.”
“There is no arguing that cell phones are the tools of choice with today’s
generation,” says David Lovell, director of Marketing at the University
of Miami (FL). “This [mobile sports content] lets us extend our
brand and create a new revenue stream, while giving our fans something they’ll
Market Leaders: Who’s Doing What
The current world of mobile content can be divided into two: content aggregators
and content distributors. Aggregators are those firms that pull together content
and put it up for sale. Distributors, on the other hand, are cellular carriers
such as Cingular, T-Mobile,
Verizon, and Sprint
Nextel. Carriers present customers with the opportunities to purchase content
at every turn, incorporating fight songs and other types of mobile content into
broad-sweeping initiatives targeted at college-bound teenage customers. Students
can either purchase content from their cell phone providers, or buy it directly
from the aggregators, where it usually costs less.
One aggregator of note is Summus,
a Raleigh, NC vendor that burst onto the scene back in 2004. Within weeks of
its debut, Summus had unveiled more than 200 fight songs and logos for download
on a special Web site, www.fighttones.com.
The company promoted these efforts by running newspaper ads on major college
campuses, and by distributing posters, brochures, and other information in freshman
dorms and at tailgate events. Today, CEO Gary Ban considers sports low-hanging
fruit around which colleges can’t help but build additional revenue streams.
Mobile content, he adds, provides the perfect opportunity to do just that.
“If I’m going to Carolina, I want to make sure I have the Carolina
logo and Carolina fight song on my handset, because whether I’m a sports
fan or not, I’m a Carolina fan because I go to the school,” Ban
says. “This is the kind of thinking colleges must acknowledge with very
basic and affordable services, because it’s a great way to make money.”
Smartphones may well be Summus’s biggest competitor. The company launched
quietly in 2003, when the ring tone market was something of an amusement for
analysts. Two years later, by summer 2005, Merrill’s Smartphones and Routman’s
Collegiate Images announced groundbreaking licensing agreements with more than
30 leading colleges and universities in the US. These agreements gave Smartphones
exclusive licensing rights to many of the country’s top schools, and marked
the first time officially licensed college sports content was offered for download
to mobile customers—a truly big deal.
Today, under these agreements, Smartphones creates officially licensed wallpapers,
animated screensavers, mobile video clips, ring tones, text messaging campaigns,
and mobile games. In addition, to constantly refresh content, the company has
made a practice of sending its own photographers and video crews to games throughout
the year. Smartphones artists use these new images to create designs that combine
school logos with action plays to create content that’s entirely unique
for some schools. In the next few weeks, Merrill says the company even hopes
to send teams to campuses to record cheers and sell them as audio files.
“Let’s face it—a loyal fan is going to download more than
just one thing,” he says. “However a student or alumnus chooses
to personalize a phone, we hope to have something for everyone.” Summus
and Smartphones specialize largely in still images and basic audio files; College
Sports Television Networks, however, focuses on more dynamic stuff. The
company, which also owns the popular U-WIRE
college news service, has made a name for itself broadcasting college sporting
events and other sports-related programming including live games, special events,
news programs, and talk shows on a private cable network and over the Internet.
Since September 2005, however, most of the network’s regular programs
have been available for download to mobile devices through the private MobiTV
service, and V-Cast from
The idea behind the CSTV/MobiTV partnership (and others like it) is simple: Give students what they want, when they want it, in the medium that they desire most.
The idea behind these partnerships is simple: Give students what they want,
when they want it, in the medium that they desire most. While CSTV d'esn’t
run the MobiTV or V-Cast services, the company works with these entities to
deliver its ordinary television and Internet broadcasts in the form of mobile
content. According to CSTV founder and CEO Brian Bedol, more than 600,000 CSTV
subscribers signed up for the services in their first six months. Bedol says
he expects that number to grow exponentially during the annual NCAA Tournament
in March, a time of year when even professional sports fans turn their gaze
on the college game.
“The passion of college sports fans and the availability of the technology
are a perfect fit,” he says. “Students are completely mobile, traveling
back and forth to school and back to their home towns, and as alumni they continue
that practice. No matter where in the world they may be, they want to keep
in touch with their alma mater. Our services enable that kind of connectedness.”
The Rest of the Pack
Summus, Smartphones Technologies, and CSTV are undoubtedly leaders in the higher
education mobile content space, but they are not alone. A variety of organizations
have joined the ranks in recent months, as well, offering a mix of ring tones,
still images, and video clips for downloading at will. Atop this second tier
of content aggregators is 2Thumbz
Entertainment, an NC-based outfit that collaborated with Summus on Fighttones.com.
Under the auspices of CEO Mark Baric, 2Thumbz also sells its content through
Verizon and Cingular. In all, the mid-sized content aggregator represents more
than 250 schools.
Baric is a bit of a philosopher when it comes to content delivery, and he considers
his company part of the wireless entertainment industry. When pressed, Baric
insists that downloadable ring tones and logos are no different from downloadable
games or other forms of content that cell phone users purchase to outfit phones
exactly the way they want. For Baric, the burgeoning mobile content market works
because it trades on something that just about every student or alumni possesses:
pride. In Baric’s mind, mobile content delivery enables this pride, empowers
it, and gives it a voice that each and every user can express in the way he
“Every phone has to ring to one tune or another; every phone needs some
sort of backdrop in its screen.” Baric says. “If you’re proud
of your school, why shouldn’t that ring be the school’s fight song,
or the school’s logo?”
On a smaller scale, Cellus,
a Colorado aggregator recently acquired by Airborne
Entertainment, offers ring tones and images via many of the biggest carriers.
The company claims to serve nearly 300 colleges, but won’t reveal which
ones. The no-frills
on the other hand, is much more open with its customer list, cataloging all
of the schools on one Web page. This last site d'esn’t work with carriers
and instead has opted to sell content independently online. Surprisingly, the
company manages to charge $5 per song—particularly high considering that
most of the ring tones are monophonic.
Even television networks are getting into the game. ESPN
recently launched ESPN Mobile, a partnership with Sprint, through which ESPN
Insider members can receive a discount on ring tones, images, games, and other
forms of mobile content in the area of college sports. FOX
Sports offers a similar option through its FOX Sports Mobile service, a
monthly $4.99 service that sends scores and updates via text message to cell
phones from just about any of the carriers. As of now, both services mimic the
providers’ general Internet sites, prompting some critics to question
whether mobile content from a television network is really worth the investment.
“Sure, some sports fans will be interested, but the most important thing
to mobile content buyers is still quality of delivery,” says Mike Masnick,
CEO of Techdirt, a CA-based
business and technology blog that tracks various industries including mobile
content. “Who are you going to trust to have better quality?” adds
Masnick, “A well-known mobile operator, or ESPN?”
What They’re Saying
These concerns haven’t seemed to phase academics one bit. On the contrary,
throughout academia, officials at those colleges that have embraced mobile content
simply can’t say enough about the new market. Many campus marketing executives
only agree to discuss their deals off the record, for fear of violating confidentiality
agreements. In all of these cases, officials say they are getting at least 10
percent of all mobile content purchases, meaning that for every $2 a student
spends on a ring tone, the institution immediately earns 20 cents. In dribs
and drabs, this may not amount to much, but if 10,000 students buy only one
item each, the institution gets $2,000 it would not have had otherwise, and
if over the course of the year those students purchase again and again, that’s
a nice little revenue flow.
Officials also point to the way mobile content enables students and alumni
to customize phones with their own recipes for school spirit. Steve Mackenzie,
associate athletics director for Marketing and Development at the University
of Arizona, hails the way a recent contract with Smartphones enables
his school to let users set up their phones with whatever ring tones they like.
Frank Cuervo, director of Marketing and Promotions at the University
of Missouri, agrees, adding that he’s looking forward to parlaying
this customizability into an opportunity for the school to extend its brand
further and deeper than ever before.
“This new medium
is giving us a great way to keep in touch with
our fans,” he says. “At the same time, [we’re] letting them
show their spirit and support their school [in whatever way they want].”
At the University of Pittsburgh (PA), Lori Burens, assistant
director of Licensing and Advertising, is looking forward to another aspect
of mobile content delivery. While Pitt has offered ring tones for about a year,
Burens explains that the school recently signed a deal with Collegiate Images
to offer a variety of logos and other images for users to install on their phones
as wallpaper. This deal marks the first time Pitt has signed with any aggregator
to distribute images. In addition to variations on the school logo, images include
action shots of football players, basketball players, the Pitt Panther mascot,
and cheerleaders, to name a few.
Once the deal g'es live, Pitt students will have the ability to choose from
hundreds of different images and buy as many of them as they’d like for
$2 apiece. Burens declines to reveal what percentage of each purchase will go
back to the school, but she says that the university is hoping to earn at least
$10,000 by the end of the school year. Ideally, she notes, students will purchase
five or 10 different images, store them on their phones, and cycle images in
any way they deem appropriate. However the image experiment plays out, the feature
will complement the school’s healthy ring tone business, adding to the
number of forms of mobile content Pitt students and alumni can buy.
“If you’re willing to personalize your phone with a ring tone,
there’s no reason you wouldn’t be willing to add some images to
the mix, as well,” she says. “The more creative our [students and
alumni] get with all of this, the more revenue we’ll generate as a result,
and that’s something that will make everyone happy.”