BBC to explore digital future with Microsoft

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The BBC has taken a step further towards a strategic alliance with Microsoft which could see the corporation working with the software giant to develop new search, navigation and distribution solutions. BBC director general Mark Thompson and future media chief Ashley Highfield—currently on a fact-finding tour in the US—signed a memorandum of understanding with Microsoft chairman Bill Gates, and agreed to explore opportunities for next-generation broadcasting.

Though the BBC stressed that any actual procurements of new technology, or launch of new services, would be subject to approval from the BBC Trust, both sides will now discuss how they might work together in re-inventing the BBC's web site and looking for new ways for the corporation to share its online content.

"We are currently witnessing unprecedented rates of change in technology and audience expectations," said Thompson. "To ensure that the BBC is able to embrace the creative challenges of the digital future, we need to forge strategic partnerships with technology companies and distributors for the benefit of licence payers."

Gates said Microsoft's vision was to "open up rich, new consumer experiences that allow people to enjoy digital content anytime, anywhere and on any device", a vision that "fits squarely with the BBC's charter to lead the industry in delivering content that is compelling and accessible".

Highfield said: "Microsoft is not just a key supplier to the BBC, it is also a key gateway to audiences that the BBC needs to reach through web services it runs like MSN and Windows Live Messenger, and hardware such as Xbox and the Windows Media Center.

"The BBC needs to work with all players in this space to make sure our programmes and content are enjoyed by the widest possible audience, without always having to come to bbc.co.uk to find it. The learnings from our US visit will very much inform our thinking on the BBC's creative future."

The talks with Microsoft about a closer strategic relationship come as the BBC's governors—due to be replaced by the BBC Trust—conduct their first public value test, into the BBC iPlayer. Its forerunner, the integrated media player or iMP, deployed Microsoft's digital rights management (DRM) software to protect downloaded radio and TV programmes from being shared online.

Lovelace Consulting  |  29.09.2006

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