Express yourself – Israel’s Vringo puts video into your ringtone

‘Video greetings from Vringo are a much better expression of who you are.’The idea came to Jon Medved in a rush when he used his cell phone to call a rental car customer service number and was put on hold. …

‘Video greetings from Vringo are a much better expression of who you are.’The idea came to Jon Medved in a rush when he used his cell phone to call a rental car customer service number and was put on hold.

“I was staring at a blank cell phone screen waiting for the Hertz customer service to pick up, and I thought to myself, why is it blank?” Medved told ISRAEL21c. “The video capabilities of cell phones are so strong, why isn’t Hertz showing me a promotional video?”

Fast forward the frame less than a year, and serial Israeli entrepreneur Medved has not only founded a company called Vringo to develop cell phone video technology, but has launched the world’s first video ringtone service for cell phones – which are naturally, called Vringos.

To put it in modern terms, Medved describes Vringos as “a mashup of Youtube, Myspace and ringtones.”

When one Vringo user – expected to be mostly teens and young adults – calls another, the recipient sees a short video clip chosen by the caller. The videos can be personal creations which are uploaded or they can be licensed clips from movies, TV shows, or music videos.

“The idea is as you move from audio to video in choosing your ring tone, you’re moving from the individual to the community,” explained Medved from his startup’s offices in Beit Shemesh, halfway between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv.

“Until now, you chose a ring tone for yourself – for instance The Rolling Stones, and that describes something about you to those around you when your phone rings. But otherwise it doesn’t tell any story about yourself. In enabling people to share video clips – a snippet of comedy show or a joke, or to their own 10-second video message with their cell phone camera saying something like “Get up!” or “Why are you avoiding me?” – then it becomes something that you’re not creating for yourself, but for your friends.”

According to Vringo VP Benjamin Levy, “video greetings are a much better expression of who you are.”

In a wireless ringtone industry worth more than $5 billion, the people at Vringo believe that video ringtones are going to break things open wide. David Card, a technology analyst at Jupitermedia told USA Today the market for audio ringtones is starting to get “sluggish.” Video could “inject some life back into ringtones.”

Medved puts it another way.

“The three most important elements of the real estate industry are location, location and location. For us in the mobile world, the most important locations are the cell phone screen before, during and after a phone call,” he said.

While Vringo believes people of all ages will use Vringos, the natural target audience is teenagers and 20-somethings, who grew up using their cell phones to do just about everything.

“The younger generation has a whole different relationship with their phones – they’re extensions of their bodies. For people my age [50], it’s a device. It literally takes two clicks to download the video – it’s unreal, even a three or four-year old can do it. About a 50-year-old, we’re not sure,” Medved laughs.

Since Vringo was launched in May 2006, Medved and his 26-person staff have worked tirelessly to develop the platform, and last month they posted a beta version of the service on their site. Selected users have been invited to subscribe and test out the options, and plans are to release the first version to the public in March or April.

“It will then be released over many months on different platforms. Right now, we support smart phone platforms, which have over 100 million phones worldwide, which sounds like a lot but is just a fraction. But we hope to be supporting other standards by the end of the year,” said Medved.

But that didn’t stop Vringo from officially launched its technology at the beginning of the month at the DEMO technology conference in Palm Desert, California, resulting in a huge media and industry splash.

“DEMO is the premier launch pad vehicle for next generation video technology. Palm and Tivo were both launched there, and one day we hope people will remember that Vringo was also launched there,” said Medved.

“There’s a lot going on in video, but I think it’s about giving the consumer control over the media around them,” DEMO conference head Chris Shipley told Business Week. “Can I get my own personal TV channel? Can I get a voice-mail message that’s personalized and interesting? Can I get video ringtones? Consumers are starting to say, ‘I want to control the media around me.’”

Vringo is working to allow users to have that control by striking deals with movie companies, TV networks and record labels to license their videos for download to Vringo users for a fee. An advertising model is also in the works which will integrate all the elements in a non-intrusive manner, Medved explained.

“For example, you can send movie trailers which will be virally spread from friend to friend – and people will be able comment on it and create a buzz about the movie. Then, as soon as the call is over, there’ll be a call to action – whether it be options to buy tickets to the movie, download the movie, buy the DVD – it will be targeted, non-intrusive advertising.”

Ultimately, besides being the ‘next cool thing’ in cell phone and video integration, Medved sees Vringos as adding a warm personal element to the often-cold impersonal world of 21st century communications technology.

“The drive is to make within this whole world of fast moving developments and increasing anonymity, a way to personalize things and to be able to tell a story to your friends. Essentially the content sharing is as easy as making a phone call – and content sharing and commenting on it are the strongest ways to build a community.”