RealNetworks’ Listen looks to reinvent the ringback

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With MultiMedia Intelligence estimating the worldwide market for ringback tones at $4 billion, RealNetworks hopes to reinvent the genre with Listen, a new app that enables users to play DJ and assign songs that their favorite callers will hear on their end while the smartphone rings.

ListenListen automatically suggests five people from your contacts list, but the choice is up to you to target family members, friends, co-workers or all of the above. From there, you simply assign each person a specific song from acts like Taylor Swift to Rihanna, and those songs will play on the caller’s end as they’re trying to reach you.

Once assigned, contacts are hit up via SMS to let them know that a special song has been chosen for them, encouraging them to give you a call and hear the music. You can even give friends the option of picking a specific song they’d like to listen to if you’re not comfortable labeling a quiet co-worker or your mom with a specific tune, not to mention the fact that there’s plenty of holiday songs to torture people with as they model their obnoxious Christmas sweaters.

In addition, Listen enables users to set their status, instantly notifying callers that they’re busy due to excuses like driving, meetings, or vacation. Simply set the slider/timer on your smartphone, and callers will be alerted to your status.

“The app leverages the specific design for smartphones in order to enhance the ringback experience,” says Max Pellegrini, president of RealNetworks’ Mobile and Entertainment division. “We see this as a big opportunity for us, especially with the power shift to Apple and Google, and the amount of smartphones that are now in the market.

“We’re trying to keep the app engaging to consumers, as you don’t both need the app for it to work, and the ringback tone will still play, even if you’re not on the same carrier.  In my personal experience, it’s been a real fun way to interact with other people, both friends and business associates.”

Listen launches in the U.K. later this month, with plans to hit U.S. and global carriers in 2014.