Cartoon Network to Sell Character Voices as Cell-Phone Ringtones

You might ignore your mobile phone if your ringtone is Beethoven's "Fur Elise," but what if it's a gruff voice that yells "Pick up the damn phone?"

Now that musical ringtones have become commonplace, Time Warner Inc.'s (TWX) Cartoon Network is planning to use the voices and personalities of its cartoon characters to alert mobile phone users to incoming calls.

One choice for adults could be the cynical next-door neighbor Carl from "Aqua Teen Hunger Force." Carl first growls "Hey," but if the call is not answered, he gets more irate and ends with "Pick up your friggin' phone."

If the same ignored caller phones again, Carl eventually yells, "You're lazy. That's nice. That's fine. Like you get paid by the government or something?"

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The same concept will be applied to other characters, with milder messages for fans of children's cartoons.

In addition to ringtones, Cartoon Networks says the CallToons service will have cartoon characters signal everything from new voice mails to low-battery alerts.

It has filed a patent for the technology, which it says is the first to respond in real time to the state of the phone and the behavior of the user. The company aims to eventually license the technology to other media outlets.

"We're personifying the normal alerts and displays on the phone," said Ross Cox, a senior product director.

Cartoon Network — chastised earlier this month for sparking a terror scare in Boston with a "guerrilla" advertising campaign for "Aqua Teen Hunger Force" — stressed that CallToons could also be used to help educate children on safety.

For example, the imaginary friend Bloo from the children's show "Foster's Home for Imaginary Friends" could suggest that children hand the phone over to their parents if the incoming number is unknown.

The network, which is working with Ericsson (ERIC) on the technology, aims to have CallToons available for consumers through U.S. wireless service providers in the fourth quarter. The company has not disclosed pricing plans.

Almost 40 million U.S. consumers spent $870 million on ringtones in 2006, according to Jupiter Research analyst David Card, who believes new variations could help maintain growth.

"At some point the juice is going to run out (on ringtones) so it's good to see new interesting entertainment," said Card who was given a demonstration of CallToons.

But he added, "I don't think it's going to appeal to everybody though because it's a kind of a crazy experience."

For example, Carl's comments on ringback tones, which the caller hears when waiting for a call to be picked up, could create interesting consequences given that most people check their caller ID before picking up the phone.

Carl would start by telling the caller to hold on, then gradually escalate his message until he tells the caller "get ready to talk to the computer" and "They must be screening you" — perhaps not suitable for when the boss calls.