BBC to launch mobile apps

Mobile phone owners will soon be able to watch live BBC news reports and World Cup football, listen to radio and catch up on iPlayer shows thanks to a fresh set of BBC phone applications.

BBC news and sport apps will first be available for the iPhone, with more later in the year for Blackberry, Android and Nokia devices.

All the apps will be available free of charge to licence-fee payers, with advertising for smartphone owners abroad. More people globally view BBC content on mobile phones than online by PCs.

The broadcaster hopes the apps will help it broaden the reach of its mobile services. The BBC’s mobile sites are already among the most popular in the UK, according to Comscore, but almost three-quarters of the people using the BBC’s mobile services today are male and half of them under 34.

“The internet is taking its place alongside TV and radio as a third platform in its own right,” Erik Huggers, the BBC’s director of future media and technology, told delegates at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona.

“Long term, mobile could become the primary point of internet access for the majority [of people in the UK] ... Today’s [Wednesday's] announcement means that we are catching up with our audiences.”

It launched a new mobile site in 2008, but the BBC has been relatively slow to develop apps. Most of the UK’s newspapers, including the Financial Times, already offer iPhone applications, while the Sky News app has 1m regular users.

“We want to be sure our propositions are distinctive and focus on our core public services – and are complementary to our broadcast output,” said the BBC. “It’s much more important for us to get the proposition right for the audience than [to] be first in market.”

The BBC news app will be released for iPhone in April to provide live and on-demand audio and video content, available over 3G and WiFi networks, with an emphasis on breaking news.

A BBC sport iPhone app will be released in May, with the iPlayer app available later in the year.

Christian Lindholm, director at Fjord, a mobile consultancy, said to turn browser-based sites into apps allows content owners to form more sophisticated experiences, such as to make each app more relevant to its subject matter.

“They are saying there is a sports BBC experience and there is a news BBC experience.”

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