Microsoft, BBC pair up on digital strategy

British broadcaster wants to work with Microsoft on the delivery of digital content. Deals with Real and IBM could follow.

Graeme Wearden Special to CNET News.com
The BBC has signed a memorandum of understanding with Microsoft to work together on next-generation digital broadcasting technologies.

The agreement could give the software giant a major role in the state-owned British broadcaster's delivery of Internet-based digital content in the future.

The memorandum was signed by BBC Director General Mark Thomson, the BBC's director of new media and technology, Ashley Highfield, and Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates on Wednesday in Seattle.

The memorandum does not commit the BBC to buying any Microsoft technology to underpin the introduction of digital services in the future. A BBC representative said this was "definitely on the cards," but insisted that the broadcaster won't be favoring Microsoft at the expense of its rivals.

The BBC is working on several digital broadcasting projects, including a scheme to make its programming archive available online.

Highfield cited Microsoft's MSN service, Windows Media Center platform, Windows Live Messenger application and the Xbox console as potential gateways for BBC content.

It's likely, though, that the BBC would face heavy criticism and possible regulatory intervention if its content was only available via Microsoft products. According to the BBC, this isn't going to happen.

"This is certainly not an exclusive arrangement," the BBC representative said. "We are meeting with Real Networks, IBM and Linden (Labs, behind the "Second Life" 3D digital world), and we're also keen to speak to the Apples and Googles of this world."

Graeme Wearden reported for ZDNet UK from London.