Microsoft and BBC sign digital strategy pact

The BBC wants to work with Microsoft on the delivery of digital content, and agreements with Real and IBM could follow

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 BBC's delivery of Internet-based digital content in the future.

The memorandum was signed by BBC director general Mark Thomson, 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 rollout of digital services in the future. A BBC spokeswoman said this was "definitely on the cards", but insisted that it won't be favouring 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 Centre 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," said the BBC spokeswoman. "We are meeting with Real Networks, IBM and Linden [makers of the Second Life 3D digital world], and we're also keen to speak to the Apples and Googles of this world."

It's understood that the BBC may sign further agreements with other technology companies in the coming days.