The BBC has appointed a Microsoft executive, previously responsible for promoting Windows Media, to a key post in the division responsible for the roll out of its iPlayer online media initiative. Ashley Highfield has announced Erik Huggers as controller of the future media and technology group. He also becomes a possible successor.

Erik Huggers spent most of the past decade at Microsoft, latterly leading business development as senior director of Windows Digital Media and responsible for the business strategy of the Microsoft entertainment division, including its MSTV television products.

He was previously responsible for business development for the interactive division of production company Endemol.

Memorandum of understanding
Last September in Seattle, Microsoft chairman Bill Gates met Mark Thompson, the BBC director general, and Ashley Highfield, then director of new media and technology, now known as future media and technology. They signed a non-exclusive memorandum of understanding which aimed to identify areas of common interest between Microsoft and the BBC on which a strategic alliance could be developed.

A central area of potential co-operation is the BBC iPlayer project, for which the BBC Trust last week gave final approval following an open consultation. The proposition will use Microsoft Windows Media digital rights management to restrict playback of programming to within a specific time window from first transmission.

In its consultation, the BBC Trust received responses from thousands of members of the public. Over 80% of them said they thought it was very important that the catch-up service was not simply limited to users of Microsoft software. The BBC Trust will require the corporation to achieve platform neutrality within a reasonable timeframe but it has not specified a timeframe.

Microsoft recently announced a new initiative, Silverlight, which will enable playback of media protected with Windows Media digital rights management on Apple OS X computers, which goes some way to providing cross-platform compatibility.

The appointment of a Microsoft executive to a key position at the BBC is significant. The newly created post of controller of the Future Media and Technology Group positions him as a potential successor to Ashley Highfield, who has done so much to promote new media within the corporation over the last six years. He has placed the iPlayer project at the centre of its online strategy. It is also likely to play a significant role in the commercial plans of BBC Worldwide.

Ashley also announced two other appointments, responsible for future media and technology within television and radio respectively. Both are also drawn from outside the corporation. Paul Dale, previously technology director with Sky Networked Media, becomes future media and technology controller for BBC Vision. James Cridland, currently digital media director at Virgin Radio, will become head of future media and technology for audio and music.