Phone Services Bring New Hope to Music Industry (March 3, 2004)
In a quickly emerging trend in mobile phones, users can now be
notified of incoming calls with songs performed by the musicians themselves. Called
Chaku-uta - ring songs, if you will - the service is anticipated to create a
new market for the music industry, where domestic shipments of CDs and other music
content dropped in 2003 by 10% over the year before and the public is tuning in
to radio less and less.
|A third-generation au phone.
A ¥10 Billion Market in One Year
Chaku-uta is a ring-tone download service that was started on KDDI Corp.'s au
brand cell phones in December 2002. It had marked somewhat over 44 million downloads
as of the end of November 2003, less than a year since its launch. The service
has dramatically grown into an almost ¥10 billion market in its first year.
The charge per song ranges from ¥50 to ¥100 ($0.48 to $0.95 at ¥105
to the dollar). Adding to that the cost of transferring the data to the phone,
users can download about 30 seconds of the chorus part of a song for ¥100
to ¥200 ($0.95 to $1.90). Whereas the currently mainstream melodic ring tones
- commonly called chaku-mero - consist of familiar
tunes reproduced with electronic sounds, chaku-uta
uses the original recordings. Compared with chaku-mero,
the live voices and instruments of Chaku-uta make for a fivefold data volume,
and downloading them is only practical on third-generation cell phones that boast
high-speed, high-volume data transfer.
The monthly download count currently stands at seven million. In addition to their
originally intended use as ring tones, these "ring songs" are generating
new demand as substitutes for rental CDs and as a way for consumers to sample a song before deciding
whether or not to purchase the CD.
The chaku-mero market has grown to a scale of ¥85
billion ($809.5 million). The leading chaku-mero distributor,
XING (pronounced "ex-ing"), boasts seven million subscribers to its
download service. Chaku-uta is expected to surpass this, however. The primary
advantage is that a system is in place to ensure the proper flow of payments and
prevent illicit copying.
Even if an electronic chaku-mero becomes a popular
download, the copyright fees go to the karaoke company that rearranged the song
for chaku-mero and the distributor; not a single yen
is passed on to the record company that owns the rights to the original song.
But since Chaku-uta replicates the sound of the original recording, permission
for its use must be acquired, and the record company and artist concerned benefit
from the sales as well. Thus, both parties are fairly willing to have their songs
Label Mobile is a music content distributor jointly established by a number of
major record labels. Although it started with a Chaku-uta offering of just roughly
300 songs, the repertoire now exceeds 10,000 thanks to the increase in partners
to 19, including industry leaders Avex and Pony Canyon. The breadth of genres
covered, from pop to classical, as well as the convenience offered by Chaku-uta
of being able to listen to one's favorite music - albeit only part of it - anytime
and anywhere, have made the service highly popular. In addition to the three download
sites operated by Label Mobile, currently more than 80 similar services are available.
Will They Replace CDs?
Another function that gives au phones lucrative potential for the music industry
is chaku-movie. The chaku-movie
service is being used to distribute short video clips of CDs before their release.
Thanks to value-added services like these, KDDI is winning over the hearts - and
subscriptions - of music fans. Competitor Vodafone has responded by coming out
with Chaku-uta-capable phones, and NTT DoCoMo will soon follow suit.
Determined to maintain its edge in this area, in December 2003 KDDI introduced
an au cell phone model equipped with an FM radio tuner. The phone not
only can display the title and name of the performer of the song being played
but also allows users to instantly search for the Chaku-uta of that song.
KDDI has further set out to realize the idea of using the cell phone as a portable
music player. By working on achieving better sound quality, data compression,
and increased data storage capacity, it will aim to create a new-generation music
tool that eliminates the need to own a separate music player.
Related Web Sites
Label Mobile (Japanese only)
Pony Canyon (Japanese only)
Copyright (c) 2004 Web Japan. Edited by Japan Echo Inc. based on domestic Japanese news sources. Articles presented here are offered for reference purposes and do not necessarily represent the policy or views of the Japanese Government.