There’s an app for that 

18 February 2010 tbs.pm/1166

Paid Content: UK Newspapers Want BBC Mobile Apps Blocked For ‘Undermining’ Them, BBC Disagrees

I have a message for anyone within the BBC who is considering whether or not to go ahead with the launch of their smartphone applications: just go ahead and make them publicly available.

Now.

Here are some very good reasons why the BBC should do such a thing. Firstly it has the permission of the BBC Trust to do so (unless they change their mind of course), and the apps themselves are just a front end for existing content so it’s not as if new content is being custom-created to potentially undermine existing competing commercial ventures.

Secondly, some newspapers (eg. The Guardian) have already made available their own iPhone apps, so it’s not as if the BBC are jumping in to a new and potentially profitable arena before anyone else has had the chance to do so.

And thirdly, if the BBC doesn’t launch these apps now, then someone might just take the Newspapers Publishers Association’s complaints seriously enough to stall their launch, even if the supplied reason(s) are heavily bordering on the specious together with some distinct overtones of anti-competitiveness.

In short, the Newspapers Publishers Association is just trying to buy some time for its members in order to protect some of them from their own possible incompetence, plus you can’t rule out any plain old anti-BBC prejudice in the process either.

The only possible ‘complaint’ that might hold some water relates to newspapers wanting to charge for news and information via their iPhone (or other phone’s) front ends as opposed to getting it for free from their respective websites, but if the same content is already available for free via the web it’s strongly arguable that it’s just a ripoff anyway.

If the BBC now presses ahead with the launch, then any complaints will fall on deaf ears as a general election is imminent – politicians currently have enough trouble with the Digital Economy Bill anyway – and any new administration is unlikely to force the BBC to withdraw its smartphone apps unless there are very good reasons at the time for doing so.

What happens next will be a stern test for the current effectiveness of BBC management. If said management passionately wants the BBC to remain at least vaguely competitive in terms of supplying news and information, then they should press ahead with the launch whilst perhaps making some reassuring noises in the process.

Or alternatively they might just take the cowards’ way out of the situation by blocking the apps’ release for another six to twelve months whilst another “public value test” is performed. (In the meantime, UK newspapers continue to block their ears and whistle loudly whilst the media landscape continues to collapse and rebuild itself around their feet.)

And there’s no public value whatsoever in that.