Mobile World Confab Seizing Opportunities

The Mobile World Congress, the world’s largest wireless event, kicks off in Barcelona next week as a must for anyone interested in the applications mobile phones may offer in the future.

The list of keynote speakers, panelists and attendees for the annual confab, which begins Monday and runs through Feb. 19, includes most of the chief executives and prominent names from any industry remotely related to wireless telephony.

Organizers expect some 50,000 to attend, about the same as last year, and more than 1,300 exhibitors are set to show their wares at the fair. Insiders suggest that the telecom industry — with its flat rates and other products — has proved more resilient than other sectors in 2008.

Even so, it is clear that the global financial crisis looms over the event.

Rob Conway, CEO of the organizing GSM Assn., is set to moderate a panel discussion Tuesday, titled “Sustaining Growth in Challenging Times,” with Telefonica, Vodafone and Telenor’s respective CEOs presenting their outlooks.

Over the past three years, the buzzword at the event has been “mobile TV” and the congress took pains to address the industry’s obsession with the “killer application.” The Mobile Backstage forum — focused on digital entertainment content — this year will continue down that road, offering a panel hosted by Simon Spanswick, CEO of the Association for International Broadcasting on the “Mobile Role in the Changing Face of Broadcast.”

According to Spanswick, the industry is now moving beyond the initial coming-of-age stage thanks to new larger screen devices and is now looking to operators to engage broadcasters in building creative partnerships.

“There’s still a visible disconnect between mobile operators and broadcasters and content owners. AIB members are finding it difficult to engage with operators — that’s something that needs to change for mobile TV to become a mass market proposition,” Spanswick told The Hollywood Reporter.

“It’s clear that there are big opportunities for operators as the use of social networking increases on mobile and the ability for consumers to watch and share quality TV will be a fundamental driver,” he said.

This year’s entertainment section also includes panels on music and gaming, as well as an interview with musician/artist about “Strengthening & Distributing Messages through Music,” focusing on the 2008 Barack Obama campaign.

But the golden star of the Mobile Backstage forum shines this year on film shorts designed for mobile distribution. The first MoFilm Mobile Film Festival bows next week, designed to act as a channel for filtered shorts to access mobile users via the telecoms.

“We’re looking to create a short film brand,” MoFilms CEO Andy Baker said. “Operators want to go to a single source that has filtered material, has good quality and already cleared rights.”

The festival will see Kevin Spacey act as godfather and keynote speaker, as well as present the festival’s 2,000 euros ($2,500) prizes to each of five category winners (i.e. comedy, horror, animation, etc.). A grand winner will take home a Cruze vehicle from Chevrolet. MoFilm has gathered 26 short films from its sponsoring partners that include Sundance, Cannes, Locarno and Shanghai, among other festivals.

Elsewhere during the event, hundreds of new products will make their global debut at the exhibition, which showcases more than 1,300 companies from all segments of the industry.