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Musicland Hits High Note With Exclusive Deal to Sell ‘American Idol' Cellphones

28 Apr, 2004 By: Jessica Wolf

Musicland is ringing in the future of home entertainment by becoming the official and exclusive purveyor of the new “American Idol” cellphone.

Musicland CEO Eric Weisman announced the three-year exclusive deal this week, alongside representatives from “American Idol” production company Freemantle Media, marketing partner Artist Communications and the phone's official spokesperson, Simon Cowell.

Exclusives are important in the competitive retail landscape, Weisman said, but what's more important is the fact that handheld entertainment and the delivery of it is a big part of the future of the home entertainment market, he said.There are more cell phones in the marketplace today than PCs and DVD players combined, he noted.

“We see [this partnership] as an opportunity to, number one, create a new category, but also to use it to crosspromote sales of all the physical product we carry, whether it's music movies or games.”Weisman also said he sees sales of downloadable content to handheld consumers as a part of Musicland's future in home entertainment retailing.

The American Idol phone comes in two versions: the Nokia 3200 ($49.99 after rebates) and the slightly more advanced option, the 3300 ($69.99 after rebates), which includes MP3 player capabilities.

American Idol cellphone users will receive regular free content like “rude” voice and text messages from Cowell, messages and photos from “American Idol” contestants, concert ticket promotions, “Idol” ringtones and more.

Shoppers who pick up either version of the American Idol phone will also get a free “American Idol” CD and Season One DVD as well as an instant $3 savings on any music, movie or game purchase at Musicland locations.

Not only will the 900 stores under the Musicland umbrella — Sam Goody, Media Play and Suncoast — have exclusive rights to the Nokia American Idol cellphones, it's also the only way consumers will get that close to “American Idol” star Cowell.

Cowell said he's “not lending his voice to any other products,” though he's been inundated with endorsement opportunities in recent years.

Not only is an American Idol cellphone the perfect tie-in to the show — after all, results rely on voters phone calls — but it appeals perfectly to “Idol's” teenage demographic, Cowell said, commenting on the prevalence of text messaging among the age group.

“I think in the future, teenagers won't be able to speak, and they'll have giant thumbs,” he quipped.”

The phones are also a way to keep the show's fan base plugged in even when there isn't a current season on the air, said Keith Hindle, VP of integrated marketing and interactive for FreemantleMedia.

Musicland stores in the past have sold prepay cell phones like the Virgin Mobile line. The company implemented infrastructure changes and staff training for these new wireless products, which require instore activation, nearly six months in advance of the product launch, Weisman said.

Promotional efforts for the two cellphone models will be extensive on the store level, he said.

The entry of the Sam Goody location hosting last week's press conference boasted plenty of signage, Cowell and “American Idol”-themed standees alongside merchandisers stocked with Cowell's book, the American Idol Season One DVD, and CDs from past “Idol” contestants like Clay Aiken, Reuben Studdard and Kelly Clarkson. There were plenty of phones on display around the register, as well as the official “American Idol” mini-sized karaoke machine.

Though the exclusive contract lasts for three years, if the show lasts longer, Musicland would like to see the exclusive contract extend as well, Weisman said.

“'American Idol' reaches a certain part of our consumer base, but that part it reaches with a strong bond,” he said.

“Idol” fans also can enter to win a sweepstakes in which the grand prize is an all-expenses paid trip to be in the audience for this year's “American Idol” finale.

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