gates_cp_3912603

Bill Gates, shown in an undated photo, announced a series of partnerships with content providers for Vista's Windows Media Center on Sunday.

Microsoft is hoping a series of deals with entertainment and news providers will help turn television watchers into digital consumers.

Microsoft founder Bill Gates said Sunday that he has planned a group of products he hopes will encourage the widespread adoption of connected homes, announcing a series of partnerships with content providers for Vista's Windows Media Center.

The new deals with NASCAR, Fox Sports, Nickelodeon and Showtime will deliver specialized content — most of which will be free — through Windows Media Center.

In the Fox Sports deal, users may view Fox Sports' SportsLounge, which will offer live TV, sports score "weather crawls," scheduled recordings and, eventually, fantasy sports player tracking.

The quality of the video feed in a demonstration at the Consumer Electronics Show appeared low, but Fox VP of programming and product development Edward Burnell told CBC News Online that was because the demonstration was getting the video from the website instead of the network itself.

"We're making adjustments all along the way and we will have a feed for the media centre," said Burnell on Tuesday. "It will switch over from the current feed and it will be seamless."

Burnell said the service would be available free to owners of Vista. With partners like Fox Sports and NASCAR, Microsoft is reaching out to a more couch-bound audience that may not have clicked onto YouTube or other internet video sites.

Gates said on Sunday the issue for users was the lack of quality video.

"Getting the video sources into the PC has been a limiting factor," Gates said. "We're making progress making the video content easily accessible on the PC."

Vista, the first major Windows upgrade since Windows XP launched in 2001, was made available on Nov. 30, 2006, to businesses that buy Windows licences in bulk. Consumers generally won't be able to get Vista until Jan. 30.

The new operating feature puts a major emphasis on tighter security.

It also features a revamped media player and web browser, better backup capabilities and a new interface that Microsoft says makes the desktop easier for people to use and manage.

With files from the Associated Press