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Mobile maneuvers

H'w'd takes swipe at cellular carriers

Hollywood and the recording biz rained on the mobile-phone industry’s parade in Barcelona Tuesday, as they warned cellular carriers to shape up or the entertainment biz would find other routes to cell phones.

Disney, Universal Music and others attending the annual 3GSM World Congress here took aim at the way carriers lump entertainment into prepackaged “decks,” known as ”portals” in Europe (like Verizon’s Vcast and Vodafone’s Vodafonelive!).

Content companies gripe that the mobile operators don’t share enough revenue, that they make content hard to find and that consumer pricing is confusing and expensive.

“Some of the operators are challenged in their ability to run their own portals,” said Attila Gazdag, European managing director for Walt Disney Internet Group, speaking on the four-day confab’s first day. Gazdag took his shot during a panel discussion headlined “Direct to Consumer Mobile” — a hot subject as the entertainment business explores alternative routes to the cell phone.

Options include the open mobile Internet, hook-ups with Web biggies like Google and Yahoo!, which themselves are going mobile, encouraging consumers to transfer video and songs from their PCs and using “WiFi” — wireless Internet.

Later this year, Disney will launch its own branded mobile service. TV and film companies also are looking into broadcast technologies.

Universal Mobile Intl. CEO Cedric Ponsot said while operator portals represent most of Universal Mobile’s Msongs, ringtones and videos, he has “no clue” if that will be the case two years from now.

But mobile carriers point out that they have invested billions of dollars in building mobile networks and they have ready access to the world’s 2 billon cell phone customers, something Hollywood does not have.

Antonio Viana-Baptista, CEO of Spanish and Latin American mega-carrier Telefonica Moviles, said entertainment providers did not always have a “balanced” idea of a fair price. “One thing is making revenue out of content, another is making a profit. Everyone has to have their fair share, and right now that is not the case.”

Even Microsoft weighed in with ideas about the operator, as CEO Steve Ballmer predicted a healthy digital future in which users download from the Internet and then transfer their songs and videos to their mobile, sometimes via the mobile networks and sometimes not (using Microsoft’s Windows Media software, of course).

Thumbing his nose at the operators, Ballmer even made a mobile-phone call that traveled over the Internet, rather than via cellular network, on the keynote stage in front of thousands. Content could move the same way.

The entertainment industry and cell-phone operators may not yet agree on how to distribute content to consumers and share in the revenue — estimated at $42 billion by 2010 by London research group Informa — but they all share enthusiasm for the mobile as an entertainment device.

Wang Jianzhou, CEO of China Mobile, the world’s largest cellular carrier, impressed the packed keynote audience when he said that mobile music download sales have widely outpaced CD sales..

3GSM turns its attention Thursday to mobile TV.

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