UK broadcasters turn to the iPad

29 April 2011

LONDON: Major UK broadcasters including Channel 4, BSkyB and the BBC are enhancing their presence on Apple's iPad.

Channel 4, a free-to-air station, is in the process of rolling out an app - sponsored by Heineken and currently available for free - that is tied to its 4oD online property.

This service will not contain the organisation's back-catalogue, instead allowing viewers to "catch-up" with recently-aired material.

"The decision to launch on iPad was taken a few months ago," Sarah Milton, Channel 4's head of video-on-demand content, told the Financial Times.

"The timing has been informed by the ongoing growth of the platform - it now clearly has a very significant user base."

As well as possessing several technical advantages compared with smaller gadgets like the iPhone, the profile of iPad owners also make it especially appealing.
"It's our belief that tablets are probably more conducive to TV-watching than smartphones," said Milton.

"The iPad is attracting a particularly active and engaged audience and a demographic that is of interest to our advertisers."

Channel 4 has not discounted making a modest charge for this offering going forward, given the specific context Apple's tablet provides.

"The ad-funded model is still the bedrock of 4oD and will remain so. The one-off payment is just an opportunity that is relatively unique to this buying market," Milton said.

The BBC, supported by a licence fee, unveiled its iPlayer app in February, resulting in 2.7m programme requests thus far, measured against 720,000 from phones and tablets powered using Google Android.

Roughly 6% of iPlayer traffic is generated by wireless devices, a figure which has climbed dramatically in a short time.

"Holding your iPad at a typical distance covers more of your frame of view than a big-screen television 10ft away," Daniel Danker, the BBC's general manager of future media and technology, said.

"In tablets generally, it's an entirely new way of watching telly. It's a bit of a personal TV."

Satellite operator BSkyB has also introduced a free application for Sky News, but which may become a paid-for item at some stage.

Alongside live streaming the latest updates, this tool hosts a range of interviews, interactive graphics and text-based content.

One key difference between tablets and linear television is that the latter format is "more often a community screen", Brian Lenz, BSkyB's director of TV product design and development, argued.

Looking ahead, Apple's plan to retain 30% of any subscriptions purchased via the App Store could require a nuanced approach.

"It's a challenge but I don't think it's a barrier. They are actually not being overly difficult for us in terms of understanding the value-add proposition and enabling that," Lenz said.

"There is always a starting point for negotiations."

Elsewhere, ITV - the UK's biggest commercial broadcaster - has stated the intention of diversifying its distribution model.

"The next phase of this will focus on mobile devices and tablets and will see ITV Player become available across a number of these devices in 2011," the company said.

Data sourced from Financial Times; additional content by Warc staff