Media Lifeline: Ringtone ads

Ringtone advertisers are changing tack after falling foul of the regulators.

2004: The ringtone craze had been gaining ground since 2001 but Icstis, the watchdog monitoring abuses of premium phone lines, expresses early concerns that advertising (at this stage mainly in teen magazines) is misleading. But the sector really begins attracting attention in the wider world when Jamster, a company based in Germany, begins ramping up its television adspend.

September 2005: The High Court rejects an appeal by Jamster against a ban on the company running ringtone ads on TV before 9pm. Its ads were deemed confusing - they obscured the fact that the product on offer was a subscription service rather than a single download.

December 2005: During 2005, Jamster has increased its UK advertising spend threefold year on year to £45 million, propelling it from 167th place to 22nd in the UK adspend league table. Its biggest-selling product is the Crazy Frog ringtone, which boasts a 31 per cent share of the UK market. But in December, the company is fined £40,000 by Icstis.

February 2006: In response to the Advertising Standards Authority ban, Jamster plans global partnership deals with AOL and Yahoo!. Jamster will "power" AOL's mobile downloads channel, which will have Jamster branding. A similar deal with Yahoo! is proposed.

July 2006: MTV Networks considers closing VH2, its channel targeting men in their late twenties with programming featuring guitar-based bands such as Oasis, The White Stripes and The Strokes. The channel's audience share has been holding up, but VH2 was largely dependent on revenues from ringtone advertisers - and these have been in sharp decline.

Fast forward ...

2007: AOL and Yahoo! reveal that they are reviewing the terms of their partnership deals with Jamster, following a number of complaints from concerned parents. Once again, the complaint is that the fine print in the Jamster terms and conditions is confusing - and that children especially are proving vulnerable to exploitation. AOL and Yahoo! reiterate their commitment to "family values".

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