Local News

#!*@ Ringtone: Raleigh Firm Puts Gibson Tirade On Cell Phones

Posted August 16, 2006

— When Mel Gibson went on a profanity-laced, anti-Jewish tirade recently, the quick-thinking creative talents at

Oasys Mobile

pounced.

In virtually no time, the Raleigh-based developer of content and applications for wireless devices produced a "Mel in Malibu" ringtone.

Hiring a voice to imitate the star of "Braveheart" and bleeping out the profanity, Oasys offered the world a very real recreation of Gibson's meltdown. And many curious people responded.

"Huge, absolutely huge," Oasys Chief Executive Gary Ban said, when asked what kind of response the ringtone has produced.

Oasys doesn't charge for the download. Instead, it has received extensive media attention and has connected with a bundle of potential new paying customers for content and tools the company produces -- from ringtones to wallpapers and a novel online "locker," in which customers can store content they have purchased. The company recently filed to protect the locker concept with a patent application.

Reacting to the Gibson episode reflects the kind of thinking that Ban wants at Oasys, which competes with a growing number of companies such as Durham-based Motricity for mobile content sales.

The market isn't that large yet. Some 10 percent of wireless customers download ringtones, and another 4 percent play games, according to M:Metrics, a mobile market research firm. Texting remains much more popular, with 33 percent of wireless users thumbing digital messages.

To win customers and to develop content that is appealing to buyers requires Oasys to be flexible as it was with the Gibson ringtone, Ban said. Its ringtone library, for example, ranges from classical music to hip hop, sports to celebrity impressions. The Gibson ringtone was touted as its first "scandal" offering.

"You have to be quick on your feet," he explained. "We shift resources" as needed.

The Gibson offer certainly helped raise the profile of Oasys, which has earned a growing reputation -- and revenue stream -- for mobile games. Two Oasys titles -- Texas Hold'em with (poker champion) Phil Hellmuth and UNO Challenge -- cracked M:Metrics' top 10 best-seller list in May. Wireless carriers Verizon, Sprint, Cingular, T-Mobile and Alltel offer Oasys content.

Just this week, Sprint signed on Oasys as one of two companies to help the wireless giant screen potential content providers. Oasys also landed a deal with Sony BMG to sell thousands of ringtones.

No More Sports Illustrated Models

But not all of the news has been good for Oasys, which changed its name earlier this year from Summus. The company decided not to renew its contract with Sports Illustrated for rights to swimsuit model images. The photos were a major revenue producer for Oasys right through the last day of the contract on March 14.

"We helped Sports Illustrated get a lot of exposure in the mobile world," Ban said.

No pun intended.

The companies had worked together since 2004, but Sports Illustrated raised its demands for compensation when the original deal expired.

"We looked at renewing the contract, but the pricing and licensing fees were too onerous for us," Ban said. "We felt like we wouldn't get the return on investment that would be necessary. ... Unlike other mobile content companies, we will not put up content just to have content."

Oasys' earnings report on Monday pointed out that the swimsuit images produced $982,000 in revenue for the first six months of the year. Total revenues were $3.93 million, up from $3.78 million a year earlier.

"We'll make up that (Sports Illustrated) revenue by other means," Ban said. "The company is growing."

Oasys reported a 30 percent growth in revenues other than those generated by the Sports Illustrated content over the first six months of 2005. However, losses also increased, climbing to $3.87 million from $1.54 million for the same six months. Much of the increased expense was attributed to stock options as well as technology and product development and marketing expenses.

The company has an aggressive plan for further growth, Ban added. He noted a new game under development with New York Yankee star Alex Rodriguez. Plus, Oasys has signed a contract with "Hot Sauce," a street-ball icon.

When Oasys changed its name, it unveiled a Web site geared to younger audiences. The site became a portal for a wide variety of content, including a mobile community it calls "OMOBB." In the near future, Ban said Oasys will launch a new portal designed to appeal to a broader demographic.

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