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BBC urged to delay iPhone apps because competition cannot hack it

You’ve heard of the great British Broadcasting Corporation, I trust? For the avoidance of doubt and for the international readers, let me point out that the BBC works for me. For me and for the rest of the Great British public. If you own a television or a ‘wireless’ (“radio”) you must — by law — pay the license fee.

A colour TV license costs £142.50. There are stringent fines if you’re found without a license. More or less every household in the country pays for this, raising £3.493 billion in revenues during 2008-2009.

As The London Telegraph reports today, the BBC has been planning on launching a series of super dooper iPhone applications to help it deliver it’s content to Smartphones such as the iPhone. For example:

These [applications] would also see every kick from the BBC’s World Cup matches in South Africa being broadcast live to smartphones.

Pretty good, right?

Having already contributed to the cost of producing the content through my license fee, I very much like the idea of being able to access that content ‘live’ and on-demand whenever I want, especially through my Smartphone.

That’s not going down too well with the rest of the marketplace, especially the commercial operators who aren’t happy at all as the Telegraph reports:

But the Newspaper Publishers Association (NPA) has accused the BBC of barging into the market and trampling over commercial news firms which were exploring this growth area.

I think these commercial news firms should explore all they want. Meanwhile, I want the value I’ve already paid for.

This is the big issue with the BBC. They’ve already been funded by you, me and the rest of the British population. So I’d like my value, please. And the smart people at the BBC are working really hard on innovating and delivering this value.

Only now there’s a fly in the ointment in the form of the Newspaper Publishers Association (NPA). Their problem? They’ll find it difficult to compete. The BBC, they reckon, should be prevented from this kind of innovation because, you know, it might prejudice their members abilities to make money.

Yeah. It probably will. As one of the best funded broadcasters on the planet, the BBC has access to some of the best and brightest talent, content, services and facilities. Good. Because, once again, you and I give it that cash.

So it’s no surprise that when you look at the BBC’s output versus the output of some of the commercial services — in whatever area you’d care to look — the BBC’s stuff is often much better quality. And it’s free. It’s got to be free. We’ve already paid for it, so they can’t go charging us again.

Given the choice between paying for content from a commercial supplier or getting it free (and really good quality) from the BBC, which would you choose?

Right. So in the case of mobile applications, everyone-and-their-dog will download the free BBC World Cup app (for example). And next to nobody will pay £9.99 (or whatever the cost will be) of a competing commercial service.

My view is that’s a problem for the commercial service. They’ll either need to innovate or exit from the market if they can’t make it work.

You’re on very rocky ground when you start demanding the BBC should limit or withdraw output because that might hurt commercial operations. Because what you’re actually saying is that the BBC has already been paid to create the content by the British population… and you want that same population to have to pay for the content from your commercial service, so that you can make money.

What about the license fee payer?

Aye. It gets people very hot under the collar.

However those same commercial companies complaining about unfair competition need to understand that the British population don’t have a choice. They need to pay the license fee or risk being fined. They have to support the BBC.

So you’re not going to get a fair hearing, at all, from the millions of UK iPhone users who want to access World Cup or News content immediately via their iPhone. We’ve already paid. The BBC is already funded to deliver it to us. They’re already allowed to deliver content online — mobile is simply an extension of online.

I thus have sod all time for the commercial argument. I welcome the opportunity for competition in the marketplace. I like the idea of being able to choose who provides my content and whether I should pay (again?) for it. That’s up to you, Mr Commercial Company, to hire some smart people and deliver some decent innovation — and make it a fair price. Deal with it.

I’m severely disappointed that the BBC Trust has bowed to the NPA (and other representations) and decided to do a Sir Humphrey — that is — carry out an assessment. Which means postponing the launch of these new BBC applications.

Which means stuffing the Great British public — in particular, the folk who want to use their iPhone, Nokia or Samsung to watch the England Football team screw up their World Cup games, one after another.

Commercial companies have already had a load of time. Years, in fact, to get stuck into the smartphone applications marketplace. The BBC is very late to the party — anything that’s rather frustrating anyway.

I hope the BBC Trust will do the assessment quickly and that when they do their Google Search, they pick up this post and add it to the ‘Don’t be so flippin’ stupid, of course you shouldn’t delay the iPhone app launch’ pile.


  1. The news/sports apps are essentially going to be “web apps”. They'll have a nice interface, which will absolutely make them much nicer to use than simply browsing the mobile-formatted version of the website, but with no real extra functionality I would guess. Iplayer maybe slightly different?

    But it makes me wonder why there isn't a better way of doing it already.. The different between an app which displays stuff from the internet and a website in safari on the iphone is, essentially, some nice interface elements (lists, swooshy transitions, tabs, maybe gestures) and some services (cached data/images, location-awareness, pre-loading of content). There's no real reason why any of the above couldn't just be done in the browser (location can already be done, can't it?) – bypassing app store and approval process, and also proving what a nonsense the objection to these apps is (because they already provide a mobile-formatted website – but they can't provide a nicer way of looking at it??).

  2. We have the same TV license system in place here in Denmark (about GBP 250/year BTW). I don't mind paying for these public service channels and think they provide excellent programming. They already provide their content (and much of their archives) on the Internet and on smartphones.

    However. Since it's now possible to view their programming on a PC or phone, the law was changed so everyone with either a broadband connection (>=256 kbit/s) or computer or mobile phone capable of viewing these streams must also pay the TV license.

    Which is rather unfortunate for those students who really need the laptop for their studies but don't own a TV set.

    To me the TV license system seems antiquated and should be replaced as soon as possible. Since nearly every household has to pay it anyway, I'd much rather pay it over the regular tax bill.


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