03/21/2012 08:10 EDT | Updated 03/21/2012 10:18 EDT

Toronto Digital Media Summit 2012: Future Of Radio Still Golden, While Rest Of Media Changes Tracks

In 20 years, there will be virtual buskers and major cable providers will have been replaced by video gaming systems like Microsoft’s Xbox, but radio -- a medium that has defied countless prognostications of its imminent demise -- will still be going strong.

These were among the predictions of the future of media forwarded during a panel discussion on the subject at the Digital Media Summit in Toronto on Wednesday.

Held as part of Canadian Music Week, the panel included a range of digital media industry experts from UK-based self-proclaimed radio futurist James Cridland and Australian innovationist Justin Baird to Jennifer Dettman, head of factual entertainment for CBC and Jeff Leiper, director of strategic policy for the CRTC.

As media advertising continues to migrate online from print and digital media audiences become increasingly fragmented, panelists were asked to speculate on how the household of the future will consume digital content.

The model they envision represents a significant departure from what we know today.

According to Baird, who was Google’s innovationist before joining Aegis Media and Jump Tank, an innovation consulting firm, the current content subscription model is on its way out.

Despite the proliferation of user-generated content, such as amateur music videos on sites like YouTube, Baird notes that users continue to give away their rights for free.

But he predicts that will soon change, as users begin to charge other users for their content.

“How come there is no such thing as virtual busking?” he said. “As we move into the future … I don’t think there will be any subscriptions. I think it will be ‘How much for this piece of content?’ Maybe it will be a donation, maybe this is a piece of content that someone is giving away for charity.”

“There’s a whole different ecosystem out there in terms of how these diff types of content will change the face of the way that people interact with and change content,” he added.

It’s a prospect that no doubt sent a chill down the backs of the industry executives in the audience -- and prompted moderator Raja Khanna, CEO of Toronto-based GlassBox Television, to tell Baird, “I think you just told everybody in the room that they’re out of a job.”

David U.K., founder of Toronto-based Cue Digital, has a slightly different take.

He says that when it comes to digital content curation and delivery, telecom giants will be replaced by video-gaming systems, which are already in 70 per cent of homes.

“In 20 years, Rogers [Communications] becomes a utility, and XBox and Playstation takes over,” he said, noting that it won’t be a completely open platform because “people still want some sort of content curation.”

“Maybe they’re a content curator and there’s a one cent fee for a million channel universe,” he offered.

But Cridland, who is managing director of the independent media directory Media UK, questions the viability of these piecemeal models for consuming paid digital content.

“I’m not going to give my credit card details to 150 different people just for a little bit of content,” he said, adding that “people are more and more used to getting content for free and not seeing any value in terms of the content they’re consuming.”

When it comes to the consequences of illegal downloading, the panelists agreed that the trend would continue to shape their decisions.

CBC’s Dettman, for instance, said the network recently put episodes of the popular show Dragon’s Den online -- supported by paid advertising -- before the program even aired on TV.

“If we fight it then there will be legal battles. If we figure out a way to give it out for free but still make money, that’s [ideal],” she said.

But despite the ever-shifting landscape of the digital media industry, there is one medium that is expected to remain seemingly unchanged: radio.

“People have been talking about the death of radio for like 30 years. It’s the only medium that’s left,” U.K. observed. “Radio is here to stay. It’s just a question of how it’s consumed and what device it’s used on.”

As the CRTC’s Leiper sees it, radio will be somewhat protected until it becomes more affordable to extend wireless connections to vehicles, where consumers often tune in.

“The tipping point in radio if it comes will come as a result of getting the inexpensive wireless connectivity into the car at price points that people are willing to actually consume it, and I’m not sure that we’re there in canada yet,” he said.

The summit continues on Thursday with presentations on Facebook, the future of the agency business and a closing keynote address by Arianna Huffington, editor in chief of AOL Huffington Post Media Group.