Brave new world: digital technology

How media industries are adapting, and what it means for you.

Downloading. File-sharing. IPods. Video on demand. Personal video recording. Satellite radio. Blogs. As the consumer electronics business has exploded in recent years, new digital technologies have also proliferated. With them have come more media choices than ever before, and more ways for people to consume them.

For traditional media companies, the new technologies carry the potential to undermine long-standing business models. Just think of the music industry, still trying to find its feet in this new world. In print, newspapers and magazines are coming to grips with advertisers' waning interest in their products, often in favour of online versions. Book publishers are facing new copyright issues raised when Google can mine their words online. In other industries–television, film and radio–the storm is still on the horizon.

It is coming, though. And as those digital storms wash over mainstream consumers–who can then use the new technologies to skip television ads, for instance, or avoid the video store entirely–the rules of the game change. These kinds of technological revolutions can turn an industry inside out, let new players gain footholds, and make others' business plans obsolete.

With every crisis comes opportunity, and media companies are scrambling to seize early positions in new revenue streams. Television broadcasters are cutting deals with mobile phone carriers to sell TV clips on wireless devices, or entire shows on iPods; radio stations broadcast over the web; Hollywood is considering movie-download services. It's full of risk. But in these times, standing still is just as dangerous.

For consumers, of course, media keeps getting better: more choice and more ways of being informed and entertained. In this special report, we explore how media industries are adapting. Responses vary, but one thing is clear: companies that successfully broker a balance between old and new ways of capturing consumers' attention will reign in the digital era.