The MIDEM global trade fair and conference in Cannes remains an essential destination for many industry executives -- not least because of the opportunity to head to the south of France and escape the January freeze.

But organizers say they had to take an aggressive approach in order to retain the audience for this year’s confab, which runs Jan. 22-27.

Total attendance for MIDEM/MidemNet 2009 declined 12% to 8,000. In June, it was announced that MIDEM and MidemNet would be united and MIDEM delegates would no longer pay a supplement to also attend the digital event.

“That decision was very well received by our clients,” says MIDEM director Dominique Leguern.

Leguern expects 2010 attendance to drop further, to around 7,000, although she says that is “pretty positive given the fact that the industry as a whole is shrinking.”

Meanwhile, Billboard picks out the topics likely to be causing a buzz on the Croisette this year…

The a-la-carte model may still be dominant but, if the MidemNet conference program is anything to go by, the future is in the cloud, with mobile streaming set to take off in 2010.

“Streaming has definitely come of age,” says Steve Purdham, CEO of U.K. streaming service We7. “Streaming is really the future.”

It’s certainly well represented on the MidemNet conference program, with Purdham joining executives from French service Deezer, Spotify, the Orchard, Sony Music and Beggars Group to discuss label and digital service deals on the opening day.

On Jan. 24 Spotify CEO Daniel Ek will be in conversation with Patrick Walker, YouTube’s U.K.-based director of video partnerships for Europe, Middle East and Africa. MySpace CEO Owen Van Natta also gives his first keynote outside the U.S. Jan. 23, in an interview with Billboard editorial director Bill Werde.

Last year saw mixed fortunes with the demise of Spiralfrog and
imeem -- services which pioneered the ad-funded model -- while Apple and MySpace bought into streaming with acquisitions of lala and iLike respectively.

Purdham believes mobile services will offer a strong, alternative revenue source as consumers are prepared to pay for a subscription to get music on the move. Indeed, research and analysis firm Gartner says mobile phones will overtake PCs as the most common Web-access device worldwide by 2013.

“Once you have streaming or accessibility wherever you are, then there [will be] a big question [over] the necessity for downloads,” says Purdham.

Purdham insists the ad-funded model “metrics are starting to add up” and praises the development in labels’ thinking.

“I was the devil incarnate talking about MP3 and free and ad-funded,” he says of previous visits to Cannes. “Now this isn't something to be feared.”

South Africa is the ‘Country of Honor’ at MIDEM 2010 and delegates can expect South African musicians to greet them with a performance when they arrive at the Palais des Festivals each morning.

The country aims to showcase its vibrant, multi-genre music scene at MIDEM, with scheduled appearances from artists including urban act Jozi, alt-rock act the Parlotones, soul singer Lira and rapper ZuluBoy, as it gets ready to host the 2010 soccer World Cup in June.

South Africa has “a lot of very active record labels looking for distribution of catalogs” says Leguern.

It is the only country in Africa where the IFPI tracks market data, and has plenty of challenges, with the overall recorded music market down 7.2% in 2008 to a total of $119.7 million, with digital revenue accounting for just $3.4 million.

Chris Ghelakis, managing director of indie Electromode, says South Africa’s big challenge is to grow “digital sales, both mobile and online,” while Lance Stehr, CEO of indie Ghetto Ruff, believes there are “not enough medium size venues.”

Nevertheless, the World Cup represents a huge opportunity for local talent to gain exposure globally.

“I hope that there is value in that process for the music industry and our artists,” says Michelle Constant, CEO of Business and Arts South Africa, which builds partnerships between the arts and the corporate world.

“We believe that it is the most important event that has ever occurred and will provide unprecedented opportunities for South African artists to showcase themselves to a curious global market,” adds Raphael Domalik, the Parlotones’ manager and CEO of indie Sovereign Entertainment.

Fifteen digital start-ups from the U.S., France, U.K., Vietnam, Germany and Belgium have been selected for the inaugural MidemNet Lab. Five companies will pitch delegates each day from Jan. 24-26 in the new MidemNet area in the trade show.

“MIDEM participants will be able to discover them, meet with them one-to-one and hopefully [secure] their next partners for their business,” says conference director Virginie Sautter.

Leguern says it is “great exposure” for the companies, which were chosen from 150 applicants.

“We have a very diverse range of companies going from live applications to data tools for artists, digital distribution, Web radio and music discovery,” she adds.

U.K. start-up Silence Media offers advertisers a “cost per engagement” media buying model for video banner advertising, so advertisers only pay when the audience rolls over the ad -- offering advertisers “a cost effective and 100% accountable way of conducting above-the-line display advertising,” according to Silence business development manager Ollie Henderson.

BandCentral is a London-based company offering an online band management system, and the company will offer MIDEM delegates a two-month free trial.

“We want to raise BandCentral's global profile,” says CEO and founder Wil Padley. “We want the delegates to see the power of this tool to really tidy up the day-to-day workings of band management, and for them to spread the word.”

For a full list of the start-ups go to:

Whether linking with brands or releasing their own music, artists attending MIDEM will be discussing how they have taken charge of their careers and finances.

The artist perspective dominates the opening day. Pharrell Williams will be keynoting, while Fall Out Boy’s Pete Wentz will join Ning CEO Gina Bianchini on a panel covering fan engagement for artists and social media, moderated by Billboard international bureau chief Mark Sutherland.

German electronic music artist, DJ and producer Paul van Dyk -- a MIDEM veteran -- appears on the New Models at Work panel alongside fellow electronic artist Richie Hawtin, Dresden Dolls singer Amanda Palmer and Hal Ritson of U.K. dance act the Young Punx.

“It was about 12 years ago that suddenly, because of some legal stuff, I got all the rights to my previous work back and I had to learn a lot about the music industry and how things work,” says van Dyk.

The event is also a vital meeting point for an artist with 24 different licensing partners around the world. Van Dyk’s long-term advisor Kurosh Nasseri -- they met at MIDEM in the late ‘90s -- of Washington-based Nasseri Music Business Solutions will handle label meetings.

“For me it's learning, it’s listening as much as telling people if they want to know how we do things,” says van Dyk of his trip to Cannes.

The strategy for his sixth studio album -- due in early 2011 -- includes a full year of engaging with his fans online with new tracks, apps and competitions.

“One thing that's very important is not just to reach out to them if you have a product available, it is basically a constant connection,” he explains.