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Mobile World: BBC pushes mobile app strategy

The BBC will begin developing applications for various smartphones, beginning with the iPhone. It will then move on to the BlackBerry and Android based platforms. The BBC does however ask the question ‚ ‚why does it have to develop multiple applications for different platforms, can the industry not decide on just one?’

UK broadcaster BBC is set to launch two applications for news and sport that will make it easier for smartphone users in the UK to access the broadcaster’s content on their handsets, said Erik Huggers, the BBC’s director of future media and technology, at a keynote conference session on mobile entertainment.

The broadcaster, which is also a major force in online content, will start with an app for BBC News in April. A BBC Sport app will follow in the April-June timeframe. An app for the iPlayer, the broadcaster’s hugely successful catch-up TV service, is under consideration for launch later in the year.

The broadcaster will develop the apps first for Apple’s iPhone followed soon after for BlackBerry and Android-based handsets. It also intends to develop versions of the apps for other smartphone operating systems. Yesterday Mobile IQ announced it is developing the BBC’s iPhone apps, claiming to have won a competitive pitch involving more than twenty mobile application vendors.

A user who has downloaded the news app will click on an icon on their smartphone to reach the BBC’s content. The news site will be repurposed to provide short and snappy coverage via carousels for different types of story (‚politics‚ , ‚technology‚ and ‚health‚ , for instance). Content can also be personalised. The sports service will initially be focused on the BBC’s popular football coverage and offer real-time coverage of results and news.

The BBC has seen a significant increase in mobile traffic since the start of 2009. The surge has been precipitated by two events: a heavy burst of snowy weather in the UK in February and the death of Michael Jackson in June. Both events triggered massive consumer interest in instantly finding out more information about a major event. ‚What’s interesting is that we saw spikes which we expected to fall back afterwards but the traffic kept growing,‚ said Huggers.

But the BBC and other content providers face challenges in their relationship with the mobile industry. Huggers lists three in particular, starting with standardisation. ‚The BBC has driven it for 88 years. Somehow we find it strange that burden falls to us to repurpose our programming for every new product. Can we agree on a standard?‚ asked Huggers.

The mobile network also faces a potential overload as an increasing amount of video is downloaded by users. Finally, he said, there is an absence of good data on mobile media consumption: ‚We are flying in the dark‚ . The industry needs a set of metrics, said Huggers.

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