Microsoft's WebTV to run trial with the BBC

Microsoft's WebTV unit has teamed up with the BBC to offer an interactive, Internet service to a trial group of BBC viewers. The trial will be provided to a group of test participants throughout the UK at the end of this year and will involve something called TV Crossover Links, a technology developed by WebTV Networks, according to Microsoft. When television viewers are watching a BBC show, they will see an icon that, when clicked, will take them to a relevant Web page, Microsoft says.

Microsoft's WebTV unit has teamed up with the BBC to offer an interactive, Internet service to a trial group of BBC viewers.

Microsoft already is running a UK trial of its WebTV product -- a set-top box that allows users to get Internet access and specialised content via their television sets -- in conjunction with British Telecom. BT is providing Internet access to trial users, while WebTV hardware licensees Pace Micro Technology PLC and Philips Consumer Electronics are providing the boxes.

The new addition to the WebTV trial will be provided to a group of test participants throughout the UK at the end of this year and will involve something called TV Crossover Links, a technology developed by WebTV Networks, according to Microsoft. When television viewers are watching a BBC show, they will see an icon that, when clicked, will take them to a relevant Web page, Microsoft said.

For example, a link to an Eastenders Web site could pop up when viewers are watching the popular soap opera, or a link to a news Web site could appear offering more information during a news broadcast. The service will work only with the BBC's upcoming digital, terrestrial television services, slated for release later this year.

The TV Crossover Links will apply to shows across the BBC's entire range of digital television programming, on topics such as news, entertainment, the arts, drama, education, science and comedy, the BBC said in a statement. In addition, users will be able to communicate with the BBC via e-mail and participate in online discussions about certain programs.

It isn't clear whether the site links will be only official BBC content sites or whether the BBC will allow links from outside content providers. The broadcast company has a large Internet presence with its entertainment-focused Beeb site and its newsier BBC Online

Microsoft is using the trial to gauge response to its WebTV services in the UK, but hasn't announced any definitive plans for a wide-scale launch of the product.

WebTV Networks, a Microsoft subsidiary, is based in Palo Alto, California, and can be reached at http://www.webtv.com/. The BBC can be found at http://www.bbc.co.uk/.

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