Ashley Highfield hops to Kangaroo


LONDON -- Ahead of the launch of what is expected to be the U.K.'s leading VOD portal, Kangaroo, BBC Internet guru and director of future media Ashley Highfield has been wooed to take the company's CEO post.

Kangaroo, which will allow U.K. viewers free and paid access to a range of programs from the BBC, ITV and Channel 4, is a three-way venture between the U.K.'s biggest commercial broadcasters. It will provide a single VOD portal, giving viewers access to all content from the major terrestrial broadcasters for up to 30 days as well as archival and pay-per-view content. It is expected to launch later this year.

Highfield, who has been the BBC's top technology executive for the past eight years, has overseen the development of the BBC portal and the launch of the BBC's interactive media player, which allows viewers to catch up on BBC programs they may have missed.

More than 42 million programs have been downloaded on the BBC iPlayer since the beginning of the year.

ITV and Channel 4 already have their own catch-up services, but Kangaroo will be the first opportunity viewers have to access their favorite programs on-demand from all three broadcasters.

"On-demand is already growing at a lightning rate, as can be seen in the figures for 4oD and more recently the BBC's iPlayer," Channel 4 chief executive Andy Duncan said. "Kangaroo's launch will drive the market from strength to strength," he said.

The BBC rejected speculation that former Microsoft exec Eric Huggers was being lined up to replace Highfield in the BBC's top new-media role.

A spokeswoman for the pubcaster said that "no decision has yet been made and we will embark on a full search and recruitment process before an announcement."

Huggers, who took the post of BBC group controller of future media nine months ago, is thought to be a strong contender.