Sky News became the latest News Corp (NSDQ: NWS) property to go gung-ho about tablets on Wednesday when it launched its first iPad app for free, but the app will be wrapped in to BSkyB’s subscription packages “at some stage in the year”.
“Sky subscribers will get it as part of their package, everyone else will pay a monthly fee,” Sky News’ head John Ryley said at a launch event Thursday morning. “We think it’s worth it.” Prices weren’t disclosed, though presenter Adam Boulton says ” a few pounds a month” and BSkyB (NYSE: BSY) tells paidContent:UK: “To be confirmed in due course.”
That model breaks with the notion from broadcasting, in which the Sky News TV channel goes out free on Freeview despite being operated by BSkyB’s pay-TV platform. The Sky Sports News app is currently free despite being paid on TV, though the Sky Mobile TV app requires subscription.
“Sky is a pay-TV operator,” Ryley said. “We believe there should be a value attached to our journalism. Sky News HD is already a premium service, so we’re already in the pay-TV market in news.
“Look how successful pay-TV has been. We launched nearly a year ago Sky News HD. Whilst I won’t go in to the numbers, it has had a very significant take-up on channel 501. People are paying for it.” Of course, BSkyB subscribers pay for HD, not specifically for Sky News HD.
“We’ve put a lot of money and brain power in to it, but that’s because we believe that tablets are the future of news consumption,” Ryley said at a launch event compered by Sky News anchor Dermot Murnaghan. “Our journalism really fits the tablet.”
What’s the app like? It leads heavily on live news, is supposedly updated by the minute by a team of 15 editorial staff and includes multiple live video streams, interactive charts, maps and galleries. The live videos can be rewound.
But the user interface, which doesn’t employ typical iPad navigation controls, is confusing, with white-on-black text and incoherent presentation of items relating to each story somewhat obscuring the depth the app appears to have. Text equivalents of stories are downplayed.
For me, the inclusion of the 24/7 TV channel at least means I no longer have to watch Sky News’ rolling news via the TVCatchup website.
Build costs seem to have been significant. “This is a gamble, they’re big investments, but we think we’ve got it right,” Ryley said. SkyNews.com producer John Jelley added: “It’s taken significant investment. We had to come up with some completely new technology. We’re certainly looking at patenting some of the technology involved in it. We’ve got a lot of manpower on this.
Jelley scratched apps from BBC News, CNN and The Times for updating less frequently: “Most news apps repurpose web feeds and jazz them up a bit. That doesn’t take advantage of what the iPad can do. They’re large editions you have to download, they’re not live products.”
Sky News brought in bloggers to spread its word…