Written by Internet, Media, Radio, TV

BBC Mobile Apps On Hold

Today comes news that the BBC has had to delay its mobile phone applications until the BBC Trust has taken a close look at what it’s doing. That obviously includes iPhone apps, but other operating systems are available, and the BBC was developing for them too.
The announcement that the BBC was developing applications came in February when Eric Huggers, the BBC’s Director of Future Media & Technology, made the announcement at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona.
The first application for BBC News had been expected next month.
A lot of newspapers in particular had been enormously unhappy at the move. In particular the Newspaper Publishers’ Association (who don’t seem to have a website of their own), had complained to the BBC Trust.
Well it has come to pass that despite the fact that most mobile applications – and almost certainly the BBC’s News app – are just fancy front ends to news stories already available in browsers, everyone was kicking up a fuss.
Also complaining were third-party developers who’d made available a range of applications – many of which were paid for – which directly used BBC news stories and streams.
In Media Guardian’s podcast a couple of weeks ago, Emily Bell and Matt Wells got particularly upset at the prospect of a BBC News application. While admitting that they were in competition with the BBC with their own Guardian app which is paid for (and very good it is too), I’m not sure that I agree that this stacks up. Why shouldn’t the BBC be able to put an application “wrapper” around something you can already see on mobile phones.
To some extent many applications are pointless wrappers of web editorial. Taken to a logical extreme, we’re all going to end up with mobile devices with hundreds of applications each working with a single website, a bit like you might have a long list of bookmarks in your browser.
Certainly you can do some clever stuff with applications – perhaps using location based information to provide relevant data, as well as the push side of things (As an aside, the BBC Breaking News Twitter feed is one of the few I let send me a direct text to my mobile because unlike most organisations, they use it fairly sparingly. Sky News’ Twitter account “breaks” just about every story that comes down the wires, and as such is less useful. The Guardian’s Twitter news feed similarly pumps out too many stories a day.).
The BBC has for years made a mobile version of its news website available to mobile devices. Should this be allowed?
There are always going to be applications that simply use the RSS feeds of sites like BBC News to power them, and there’s little that can be done to stop their creation. Indeed, if you look beyond the iPhone platform, anyone can write anything they like for platforms like Android and there’s very little anyone can do to stop them.
It’s an artificial distinction. And those kinds of distinctions just don’t work on the web.
From a user’s point of view, a delay in making available a BBC iPlayer application is not a good thing. Consumers are expecting and even demanding that programmes are made available via mobile devices. Whether or not the mobile networks can cope with widescale video and audio streaming usage like this is a separate – but important – question.
In the end, it was probably foollish to believe that the BBC Trust wouldn’t need to put its oar in before these applications saw the light of day, but its viewers and listeners who will lose out. The idea that mobile is an area the BBC shouldn’t be in will be utterly absurd in even 12 months’ time. That’s if it isn’t already.
These are my own views, and they do not necessarily reflect those of my employer, not that we’re really in the mobile news application game.