Imagine superstar Salman Khan sitting down to record messages for your mobile phone’s caller ringback tone. For those of you who haven’t heard it, it sounds something like this—“Hi, this is Salman Khan. You have called Nupur... Nupur someone’s trying to get in touch with you. Pick up the phone..." He’s done similar light-hearted recordings in Hindi. The service, called Celebrity Name Tune, is currently active on several telecom networks including Airtel, Vodafone, Idea and Reliance.

Vivek Raicha, head of investments at media fund CA Media, which owns the digital influencer network Fluence that is responsible for getting Khan to lend his voice for the telcos, says the service is among the most popular and fastest growing. And there are celebrities besides Khan who are offering their voice for such caller ringtones.

Current estimates peg the total Celebrity Name Tune downloads at five million across telcos. These have a shelf life of six-eight months compared with conventional songs that last one-two months. Raicha says he’s bullish about this unique, personalized service and intends to get all celebrities on the platform in a phased manner.

It’s easy to see why Raicha is confident about the celebrity business. His company owns the digital media rights not just for Khan, but also for Amitabh Bachchan. In fact, there are more than 40 celebrities and mini celebrities in the Fluence portfolio whose digital media rights have been wrapped up by the company, incubated by CA Media in 2012.

To be sure, Fluence is just one of the many companies busy signing up deals with celebrities—film actors, sports stars and musicians, among others—and growing the nascent industry of digital media rights management. Recognizing the importance of digital celebrity rights, more and more brands are keen to sign them up for their products and services.

A month ago, this column spoke of how brand ambassadors are becoming influencers (mintne.ws/1VEmg1P). It is in fact digital media that plays a big role in turning them into influencers. For starters, digital rights mean anything and everything which is not mainstream media, that is, a television commercial or a print ad. Unlike in television and print, digital rights offer the option of bite-sized celebrity endorsements especially for social media—maybe a tweet, a video blog or other content. Companies like Fluence also offer their celebrities for gaming rights and for programmes for over-the-top platforms.

Assigning their digital rights to an expert helps the celebrities grow their influence in the social media sphere. The strategic inputs on what to tweet and put online helps them increase their followers. The agency, which becomes the repository of their digital rights, grows both their social media presence and their equity with brands that need them for endorsements.

Brands benefit—they get exposure and traction—when these celebrities post about them on their pages. They are the influencers. Bachchan has 40 million followers across social media. Khan has 42 million. Fans listen to them and like what they say. A number of film actors, for instance, tweeted about the recently concluded Flipkart sale that benefited the e-commerce platform.

Earlier companies got one celebrity brand ambassador across TV and print. Now they get a slew of celebrities to talk about the brand on digital media, which is growing. According to estimates, Facebook had 132 million monthly active users in India in June 2015. Twitter’s user base in the country is pegged at 22.2 million.

Rajiv Dhingra, founder and CEO of WATConsult, the digital and social media agency in which Dentsu Aegis Network acquired a majority stake in January 2015, has been using celebrities for his clients in the fast-moving consumer goods and the banking and financial services categories. He has used sports stars, film actors and authors. In the digital media space, everything depends on the number of followers a celebrity has. For social media, brands can sign up tens of nano celebrities as the price is still low, but the area of influence is large.

However, digital media rights will not remain low-priced forever as this sector is set to mature. According to some estimates, even now, a single tweet by a celebrity (depending on his/her stature) could cost between 2 lakh and 4 lakh.

Digital media rights will grow both in terms of value and volume.

A few years ago, there was no separate value attached for any work that a brand ambassador did online in addition to endorsing the brand in a television commercial. That has changed. Now celebrities know how to monetize their digital rights.

As brands start moving their marketing budgets to digital, the digital media celebrity rights business will grow by leaps and bounds. And your Khan caller ringback tone may become dearer.

Shuchi Bansal is Mint’s media, marketing, and advertising editor. Ordinary Post will look at pressing issues related to all three. Or just fun stuff.

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