Kate Bulkley, Media Analyst.

TV industry bitten by app bug

By Kate Bulkley

Broadcast News

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For Broadcast May 17, 2012

Broadcasting is no longer just about content, says Kate Bulkley.

BBCW’s head app honcho Dan Heaf sees apps as a key part of the digital strategy for all of Worldwide’s brands, from Top Gear and Dr Who to its Lonely Planet guides.

The Dr Who Encyclopedia on iTunes has more than 21 million ‘likes’ on Facebook, just to give you an idea, and sells for $3.99.

Many in the app space, including Heaf, will be happy to hear that Facebook is planning to sell apps directly on its site using credits, providing a much-needed competitor to iTunes and giving the social network another way to augment its revenue streams in the run-up to its mega-IPO this week.

But while apps are the future, they are also a tricky business. Unlike selling a DVD, a good app needs to evolve and BBCW has noticed two things in particular.

First is that the debate about free versus paid apps is evolving into the territory of ‘freemium’ – where there is a bit that is free but a bigger bit that is not. Getting that balance right is a work in progress. For example, the Top Gear Stunt School app began as a paid download-to-own app then became a free app with ‘in-app purchase’ possibilities.

Last year, BBCW reported 9 million downloads of its Lonely Planet travel apps for smartphones and iPads, which represented the lion’s share of its total 12 million app downloads last year.

The digital travel guide business has to be more than an e-version of the iconic books – to be the “guide book of the future” it must include GPS location technology and auto updates.

To that end, last November, Lonely Planet funded Wenzani, a California start-up now testing a locally curated, socialised travel app that includes information from the Lonely Planet guides but also from competitors.

According to Heaf, the app future isn’t just about the right content, it’s about the technology tools that help deliver the right content in the right way, at the right time.

BBCW said last July it wanted to increase the percentage of its revenues earned from digital to 10% by 2012, up from 8.1% last year. Sounds like it is working on an app for that.

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