Spending the BBC licence fee

There's an interesting discussion doing the rounds on Twitter today (kicked off by James Governor) around whether the BBC should be spending licence fee money building tools for the iPhone and iPad. The argument goes that public money should not be spent investing in technologies which require the public to use products only available from a single supplier.

It's an interest debate because, under normal circumstances, I'd support this line of thinking. Public money should be invested in open technologies, because the information and services should be available to all, and open technologies is the way to do it. Seems obvious.

However, there are some important points to make here:

- Even with the creation of iPhone and iPad apps, the BBC and the public don't have to depend on proprietary hardware or software to get at the information. The exact same information is available over many other channels and services, including their website.

- There are at least 2 million iPhones in the UK, and Lord knows how many iPads. Surely we shouldn't ask the BBC to ignore this size of group, many of whom also pay their licence fee? Aren't they entitled to access the service in the way that they want? That last bit is important, by the way. Convenience and user experience are part of the service.

- If the BBC is to deliver on the promise of "delivering to the public the benefit of emerging communications technologies and services", then this shouldn't exclude proprietary platforms. No one can deny that the iPhone is one of the most influential, innovative and popular platforms around. To exclude it for idealistic reasons would be petty, not to mention uncompetitive.

Essentially, I think it comes down to this. The BBC is about connecting users and information / services. It should remain agnostic about the technology required to do this.

Comments

mheseltine said…
at least 2 million apple iphone phones, amongst approximately 75 million mobile phones (wikipedia). So when the BBC decides to do a mobile application, why should it target the platform that has just 2% of the user base?
mheseltine said…
plus I bet you have an iphone phone yourself...so hardly impartial. Were you so pleased when the BBC released iPlayer 1.0 for windows-only?
Phil Whitehouse said…
I'm willing to wager that iPhone web usage represents a whole lot more than 2% of total mobile web traffic in the UK. Put simply, iPhone users and their ilk are the kind of people likely to use their mobile devices to access BBC services. It'll be very interesting to learn how many people eventually download and use these apps. With absolutely no evidence to back this up, I'd expect something like 25% of iPhone users to download the BBC News app, and that's still half a million people.

Bear in mind also that iPad / iPhone users tend to look for the services they want in the iTunes app store, where a BBC app has been notable by it's absence.

Finally, these apps put the BBC in a good position to develop apps for other more open platforms, such as Android and others yet to emerge.
Phil Whitehouse said…
Yes, I do own an iPhone and, yes, I was upset when the iPlayer was released for Windows only. But the key difference here is that the information on the iPhone app isn't only available on the iPhone. It's available on the website. If the iPlayer was first available on the website, and then they added a special Windows only version, there wouldn't have been an unroar.
Stevo said…
Is an unroar like an inverse uproar? Typo or not, I am officially stealing this word...
Phil Whitehouse said…
More reciprocal than inverse...or should I say unverse?
DE said…
Ah the BBC financing Apple? Or propping up Apple in some way? Or advertising Apple? Or promoting Apple?

As far as I can see, the BBC is just responding to what many of its viewers probably want.

It would have been interesting had Apple not allowed the BBC apps onto the store. And the store is full of material probably not compatible with BBC quality.

Given that we know the BBC will do an Android version, and hopefully a WebOS version, I can't see any real area for complaint.
SteveEllwood said…
and what about the *deliberate* breaking of the XBMC iPlayer client?

Did their audience not count?
http://www.theregister.co.uk/2010/02/24/iplayer_xbmc_adobe_swf_verification/
Phil Whitehouse said…
I'm with you on that, Steve. The BBC should really be finding a way to share content without the need to download flash. That said, it's easy for us to make this observation from outside the BBC - I'm glad I'm not the one who would have to solve this particular problem in a cost effective manner.
James said…
There is another interesting consideration. The BBC does have a commercial arm and the app is add supported outside of the UK so it should pay for itself.

In other words the BBC are providing a free channel to their content for Licence payers without any additional cost.