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Mobile conference talks films on phones

3GSM World Congress kicks off next week

BARCELONA — Celebs and geeks alike are flocking to Barcelona’s 3GSM World Congress, the world’s biggest annual cell-phone confab, where they will try to convince the planet’s 2 billion mobile phone users that the popular gadgets are handy for watching films and videos, listening to music and playing games.

To help make the point, the conference on Monday will debut a crop of made-for-mobile short films from Bollywood director Sanjay Gupta and from Robert Redford’s Sundance Institute. Sundance is sending directors Justin Lin, Maria Maggenti, Cory McAbee, Jody Hill and Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris to screen their thee- to five-minute films.

“Cell phones are fast becoming the ‘fourth screen’ medium after television, cinema and computers,” Redford said late last year, when Sundance first announced its 3GSM film project in New York.

Besides Gupta, Bollywood is sending stars Diya Mirza, Lara Dutta and Sanjay Dutt to the event.

On the music side, Warner Music Group chairman-CEO Edgar Bronfman Jr. will deliver Wednesday’s keynote address. Presumably he’ll extol the phone as a digital music and video stage on which artists such as Goo-Goo Dolls, Missy Elliott, Diddy, Gwen Stefani, R.E.M and Eric Clapton can strut their stuff. Rival record label EMI is bringing along Britain’s sassy urban R&B star Jamelia to sing a few numbers.

Just in case anyone forgets 3GSM is a phone conference, Sony Ericsson will be showing off new Walkman phones that optimize music playing, including an ultra-thin model that stores about 900 tunes.

Noticeably absent from any of the headline events is Apple, which helped raise mobile entertainment’s profile in January when it introduced iPhone, the phone version of its popular iPod portable music and video player.

But execs from Disney, Fox, BSkyB, MTV, Google, Yahoo! and Sling Media will mix on the many panels with reps from Vodafone, Deutsche Telekom, Orange, South Korea’s SK Telecom, Nokia, Motorola and Samsung.

Even execs from advertising giants WPP and Omnicom will join the fray as they gear up to tap mobile’s huge advertising potential.

They’re all among the 60,000 expected at Barcelona’s Fira fairgrounds in pursuit of what market research firm Juniper predicts could be a $76 billion mobile entertainment business by 2011.

At a “Clash of Cultures” session Tuesday, expect a donnybrook as big telecoms and big entertainment, two powerful and bossy industries, fight each other for control of the pie.

While carriers such as Vodafone prefer users to buy content straight from carrier decks (called “portals” in Europe), entertainment companies are finding other routes to the phone, such as Internet connections and “sideloading.”

One common criticism from entertainment companies is that carriers’ end-user pricing is too high or too confusing. “If people get surprised at the end of the month with a big bill, we’re not going to get anywhere,” said Disney European veep Sunil Gundiera, who like many on his side advocates a flat-rate pricing scheme rather than “per-megabyte” charges.

In response to Apple’s attempt to drive mobile music sale via its iTunes site, a London-based company is expected to unveil a mobile music-playing service that makes more than 1 million songs available through the carriers decks’.

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