Disney connects with Microsoft in tech deal

Just a few days after breaking up with Steve Jobs, Disney is hooking up with his archrival Bill Gates.

Mouse House is signing a wide-ranging multiyear deal with Microsoft to use the software giant’s digital media technology across all of its properties in an effort to expand efforts to make content available online and to portable devices.

Deal is largely lacking in specifics but calls for Disney to license Microsoft’s Windows Media digital rights management technology to protects its content from piracy and for the two companies to collaborate on upcoming digital initiatives.

Execs from the two companies said those would likely include facilitating the flow of digital content between devices; making Disney content available for Microsoft’s upcoming Portable Media Center, which is similar to an iPod with video capabilities; and improving the quality of online and mobile content while keeping it secure.

“This is a first big step that gives us one of the elements of a portfolio of tools and technologies that we’re hoping to assemble to facilitate the distribution of our content to a whole new class of home and portable devices,” said Disney senior VP of strategic planning Peter Seymour.

Nonexclusive deal allows Disney to work with Microsoft competitors such as RealNetworks but is still a coup for Microsoft after years of intense lobbying to make itself a Hollywood player as content goes digital.

The only other studio to sign such a deal with Microsoft was Time Warner, which did so in May; no significant projects have come out of that alliance thus far.

“It’s a sign that yesterday’s great divide between technology and content companies is going away,” said Dave Fester, general manager of Microsoft’s Windows Digital Media division. “We’ll be able to help Disney deliver innovative digital experiences to consumers while addressing the key concerns of all content owners.”

Disney already makes some of its movies available for online download through MovieLink and CinemaNow, offerings that will continue.

Fester expressed hope that the deal will encourage Disney to further open up its content library, including programming from TV assets such as ESPN and ABC.

He also said the two companies would likely work together to produce high-definition DVDs using the Windows Media format, although Seymour said the Mouse House is looking at working with a number of different providers for high-def.

Other possibilities cited by Seymour include preloading Disney content on digital playback devices and making its content more interoperable so it can be played on multiple devices from different manufacturers.

“We’re looking to create content experiences we haven’t been able to create before,” he commented.

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