Microsoft Fills Top Online Spot In UK, Hires Away Highfield From Kangaroo

In a dramatic move, Ashley Highfield is quitting as CEO of Project Kangaroo, a UK VOD JV similar to Hulu, after just five months, to join Microsoft (NSDQ: MSFT) as VP of its newly combined UK consumer and online business, we have confirmed. Highfield will also join the board of betting agency William Hill next week as it tries to create an online business.

Highfield has only been with Kangaroo since July, after stepping down as director of the BBC’s future media and technology division. The BBCWW/ITV/C4 venture has appointed Rod Henwood, who was C4’s new business director and now leads Kangaroo’s regulatory advice, as an interim replacement.

This is major disruption for Kangaroo. The Competition Commission is due to rule by Feb. 8 on whether the service is anti-competitive, but its provisional conclusion is due at the end of this month; Kangaroo is still awaiting that verdict but has been taking part in regular hearings, the commission told paidContent:UK.

More after the jump and on paidContentUK

Major change for Microsoft: The Microsoft position opened after the company merged its commercial and online units under one department in September to better marry its content and advertising operations – a restructuring that, ironically, saw MS’ commercial director Chris Dobson leave to head global ad sales for Kangaroo’s lead partner, BBC Worldwide.

It gives Highfield a level of power that probably no one at Microsoft’s UK web operation has wielded until now. He will be responsible for sales, marketing, content and programming, business development, partner efforts and operations for Windows, Windows Mobile, Windows Live, MSN, Live Search and Microsoft Advertising. He will oversee MSN UK executive producer Peter Bale and advertising head Chris Ward; Highfield himself will report to John Mangelaars, VP for consumer and online across Europe, Mideast and Africa (Microsoft release).

Lots more over on paidContent:UK