Why BBC iPhone apps are a bad thing

BBC iPhone apps: exciting, but they should never see the light of day. Here’s why:

The tide is turning against the BBC. Whoever grabs power at the next election will be faced with a gaping black hole where the Bank once stood – every tax will be scrutinised, and the TV licence is likely to be seen as an inessential frippery.

Worse, while the tax-funded BBC is developing brilliant products (iPlayer, BBC News, HD, 3D) at a startling pace, the UK’s commercial media industry struggles to raise advertising and grapples with the impossibilities of charging for its wares online. It’s all falling apart.

The battle for the desktop is lost. People won’t pay for an in-browser experience. Which is why the holy grail for media is mobile. Because folks are willing to pay for stuff on iPhone and Android. Hence The Guardian can successfully charge £2.49 for an (admittedly lovely) iPhone app that does little more than repurpose its website. And so every magazine maker is looking to develop iPhone (and iPad) apps that replicate the magazine experience. Apps they can charge for. Every month.

So when the BBC rides into this nascent market and delivers free apps offering brilliant news, sports and video, it devalues the market. The BBC doesn’t need to chase after sponsors or wonder how to fit advertising onto a tiny screen. It doesn’t need to offer a premium service or get inventive with in-app purchases. It doesn’t even need come up with a business plan.

So as an iPhone user, and BBC fan, I want free BBC iPhone apps. But this time I have to play the role of killjoy: we’re more likely to see a healthy media industry – and therefore a reason to keep the licence-funded BBC – without free BBC iPhone apps.