On the radar
What to watch in the weeks ahead
By Kate Bonamici and Jia Lynn Yang, Fortune Magazine

(Fortune Magazine) -- Now Playing on Computer Screens

Gear up your broadband: Legal movie downloads are about to go mainstream. By summer's end, Warner Brothers movies and TV shows will be available for legal, paid download using the lightning-fast software of file-sharing pioneer BitTorrent. If BitTorrent sounds familiar, that's because its technology has been synonymous with piracy. Now, with Warner (like Fortune, a part of Time Warner (Charts)) leading the way, studios like Paramount and Sony appear ready to embrace downloads, and not just with BitTorrent. Apple's (Charts) iTunes is plotting its move into Hollywood too. Steve Jobs and studio execs are reportedly haggling over how to price movies. But soon characters like Superman and Harry Potter may hit your computer hard drive the very same day that DVDs arrive in stores.

Summer Drilling

Who owns the ocean? And should the U.S. search more of its coastline for oil? These issues have been brought to a head by a much-anticipated Aug. 15 federal auction of drilling leases for millions of acres up to 210 miles out in the Gulf of Mexico. Louisiana Governor Kathleen Babineaux Blanco has sued to stop it, saying her state deserves more cash from the sale. The case could set a precedent that states can benefit from drilling far beyond their shores. Blanco has the support of lawmakers from coastal states like Maine and Virginia, who have signed on to bills sponsored by Louisiana's congressional delegation to provide states more revenue and open up new coastlines for drilling. A House bill has passed, and the Senate will be debating its version this month.

Open Season

European regulators are making tech companies sweat this summer. The EU's antitrust agency will decide by the end of July whether to hit Microsoft with a two-million-euro-per-day fine (retroactive to Dec. 15) for refusing to tell competitors more about how Windows works. Norway, Sweden, and Denmark have given Apple until Aug. 1 to submit papers justifying why iTunes downloads don't play on non-iPod devices, and may take antitrust action. Meanwhile, France has passed a law requiring an open format for all digital music. Mon Dieu!

The Futures Market

July 25 Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez visits Russia, where he is expected to purchase 24 fighter jets. Then it's off to North Korea for a possible oil-for-arms trade.

July 30 NASA launches the $478 million Stereo mission: Two satellites will take the first-ever 3-D photos of the sun to help understand solar weather.

Aug. 4 Heading to Vegas? Keep an eye on your computer: Thousands of hackers will be in town for Defcon 14, the world's largest hackers' convention.

Aug. 5 On this day 25 years ago President Reagan fired 11,500 striking air-traffic controllers--could the FAA's current salary battle with the controllers' union lead to a sequel?

Aug. 8 Another Fed meeting, another rate hike? The July increase brought rates to a four-year high; expect them to climb again.

Telis Demos contributed to this article. Top of page