Potential ventures include search and navigation, distribution

The BBC has pacted with Microsoft to develop the next generation of the pubcaster’s much-used Internet services, adding to the controversy over its increasing emphasis on new media.

BBC topper Mark Thompson and director of new media Ashley Highfield approved the nonexclusive deal with Bill Gates in Seattle on Wednesday.

The memorandum of understanding “includes plans for an online archive, for a radically reinvented Web site in the Web 2.0 world — a second generation of Internet-based services — and for ways to share online content in the future,” the BBC said in a statement.

Potential areas for collaboration include search and navigation, distribution and content enablement.

“We are witnessing unprecedented rates of change in technology and audience expectations,” Thompson said. “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 license payers.”

Gates said: “Our vision is to open up rich, new consumer experiences that allow people to enjoy digital content anytime, anywhere and on any device. This vision fits squarely with the BBC’s charter to lead the industry in delivering content that is compelling and accessible.”

Thompson has put the Internet at the heart of the BBC’s activities, a point emphasized with the recent restructuring of the Beeb and its ambitions to build on its already high reputation for Web-based content.

Follow @Variety on Twitter for breaking news, reviews and more