BBC News apps: Not popular on Fleet Street

Oh dear. It seems that not everyone is as pleased with the BBC's new iOS news apps.

The Newspapers Publishers Association has accused the Beeb of pushing the apps through quickly so they don't have to be put through a public value test. The BBC Trust approved the apps ahead of the 23 July launch.

The NPA's director David Newell stated that it believed the BBC's apps were in breach of its policy because the impact to the commercial market would outweigh the public's value with the service.

He said: “The launch of BBC mobile apps represents a significant change to the BBC online service and we believe it will have a significant and negative market impact upon the viability of the business models of commercial news organisations in the app market”.

The criticism comes hot on the heels of a damning of the apps by Michael Johnston, president of the Scottish Newspaper Society.

However, a report commissioned by the BBC Trust to investigate the apps market has also been made public, in which the body indicates that there is an emerging trend whereby news apps are usually available free and that the BBC's app has a place in this free market.

The report states:

"It is no surprise therefore that the market for mobile news apps is already a crowded one. The range of mobile apps available mirrors the range of online sites, including national and regional press, freesheets, broadcasters, news agencies, magazines and online/mobile only sites.

"There are approximately 1500 news apps on Apple’s Apple Store and more than 200 news apps on Blackberry’s App World; there are 40 free news sites from traditional media owners on the iPhone in the US (from all the TV networks and from leading newspaper publishers).

"Revenue models vary across the spectrum of news apps, however the majority are freely available - a very recent survey undertaken by Journalism.com found that 24 of the most popular 36 news apps on Apple’s App Store were free. In addition, The FT and The Wall Street Journal offer free access to those with an existing offline or online subscription; a notable exception to these trends is the Guardian, whose app is priced at £2.39 on iTunes.

"The BBC claims in its submission to the Trust that its lack of news and sport apps
risks damaging the BBC’s reputation, as there are already unapproved applications
available, using BBC content without concomitant brand control exercised by the
BBC. We agree with this argument, as smartphone users will increasingly expect to
be able to access BBC content via an app - and if this is not available via the
BBC, they are likely to seek alternative routes to BBC content".

The full report, which is 46 pages long, can be accessed via a PDF.

It's difficult to disagree with either side of the argument on this issue. Sure, the BBC's apps will mean that it is increasingly difficult for commercial news providers to generate revenue, but isn't it also necessary for the BBC to be providing "accurate, impartial and extensive news" as part of its remit?

And surely the BBC's apps are merely extensions of its online presence - there is no new content as such, the apps are simply additional tools for accessing existing information.

It's an argument that is set to run and run, as the news provider landscape changes beyond all recognition as the digital revolution rumbles on.

How it ends is anybody's guess. Just don't ask Rupert Murdoch though - his bright ideas have proved to be some-way off the mark so far.

Give us your thoughts on news in the digital age using the comments below.



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