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Sky News: 'The iPad is our future'

Rory Cellan-Jones | 14:16 UK time, Thursday, 17 March 2011

Whatever you think of Rupert Murdoch, give him credit for one thing - his news empire has made all the running in terms of digital innovation over the last year. First, by putting up paywalls around the Times and other titles, then by launching an iPad-only newspaper, and now with a rather impressive new iPad app for Sky News.

The application goes further than anything I've seen so far in delivering a television news service crafted for a tablet computer. You can watch live TV, choose on-demand videos, even spool back during a live event to see what you've missed.

Then there are interactive graphics, text articles and photos to give more background on the top stories of the day. What it doesn't do is breadth of coverage - if you want to know all about events in Japan, you will find a wealth of material. But try to find what's happening in, say, business or technology, and you'd be better off heading elsewhere.

Sky News iPad app screenshot

Sky News boss John Ryley certainly wasn't underselling the app, which is the result of a year's work and substantial investment. "It's one of the biggest developments since our launch 20 years ago," he said at the London launch. And, like Rupert Murdoch, he was starry-eyed about the potential of the iPad: "We believe that tablets are the future of news consumption."

But here's the big question, with this and the other Murdoch news innovations - will consumers pay for them? The Sky News app will be free at first - and will remain so for Sky's 10 million customers. But for anyone else, that will soon change: "This is a premium product and we will be charging for it," says John Ryley. How much, he did not say, but the chatter is that it will be in the region of £5 a month.

Rupert Murdoch with iPad


Sky bosses seem confident that people will be prepared to pay. When I questioned whether there was any evidence of consumers paying for television news anywhere in the world, they pointed to their premium HD News channel which, they say, has attracted plenty of paying customers, although there were no numbers forthcoming.

But across the Murdoch empire - of which Sky News may soon be a distant cousin - the evidence that paywalls are working is still hazy. Last November we heard that just over 100,000 people were paying online for The Times, though how much and how often wasn't clear.

As for The Daily, Murdoch's iPad pride and joy has been free since its launch in the United States last month, but faces what a News Corp executive calls its "moment of truth" next week when readers start having to shell out 99 cents a week for access. The fact that the paywall has been raised weeks later than originally planned does not suggest a whole lot of confidence.

And elsewhere the early enthusiasm about the iPad being the future of news and publishing seems to be fading. A number of magazines have seen a lot of excitement around their first iPad editions, but then fading interest as the months go by.

I'm sure plenty of people will want to play with the very impressive Sky News app - and it should encourage other news organisations to up their game in this area. Perhaps it will prove to be the future of news, as its creators claim. But it may end up as just another app, battling with Angry Birds for the attention of consumers who have shown that little impresses them for long.


  • Comment number 1.

    I have big concerns on the impact an app like this will have on a persons data usage. Updating text a couple of times per day is one thing, steaming video will really cost.

  • Comment number 2.

    I still want to know what an iPad is for? Too big to be really mobile (you might as well carry a small laptop or netbook), OK around the house but again you can watch Sky or the BBC live in your home on a computer or TV.

    The iPad is NOT the future, the mobile phone is, butprobably with a bigger screen. The current 3 -3.5" screen most smart phones use is too small, someone needs to come up with a phone that can pop out a slightly larger screen for web browsing and interactive apps.

    The Android tablets offer a compromise, but how many of us want to stick one of those in our pocket?

    The Sky android app is OK but could be better.

  • Comment number 3.

    Just quick example of the slightly perverse nature of online economics.

    Currently I consume news in three ways
    - via websites (including streaming the BBC News Channel)
    - via Andriod apps
    - via print

    The sources are the BBC (despite not paying the license fee), the Telegraph (free online), the Independent (free online), the Guardian (free online), the Daily Mail (free online), the Scotsman (free online) and The Times occasionally in print.

    So, from a business point of view, Murdoch is the only one making any money out of me, indirectly from The Times pay wall but mostly because everyone else has there content freely available.

    Take away from that what you will...

  • Comment number 4.

    "his news empire has made all the running in terms of digital innovation"

    Really? Putting up paywalls smacks much more of someone doing their level best to avoid innovation.

    Far better would be to embrace new technology and come up with new services to take advantage of this. That would be innovation. Simply trying to replicate a newspaper online, including charging people for a copy (and ignoring the lack of print/distribution costs) is not innovation.

  • Comment number 5.

    I don't currently consume news provided by any comercial organisation. I just about tolerate what the BBC has to say since on subjects where I have real knowledge (as opposed to opinion) you seem to be close to accurate more often than not, unlike anybody else.

    The obstacles to me are nothing to do wth price. First of all, all the commercial media have an obvious political bias, which is actually risible, and reduces the level of debate to a childish tit-for-tat - and yes, I include the quality print media in just the same way as the red and black-tops. Secondly, standards of journalism are generally very poor, for reasons amply explored by books such as 'Flat Earth News', so that what is presented as fact is usually opinion, and any nascent moral panic is rapdily amplified, rather than explored and analysed.

    So no, Murdoch will get nothing from me, or from anybody else who would like a bit more reality in their news.

    By the way, what is news? Is it necessary, or helpful? After all, the concept didn't really exist until the 19th Century, and like the smoke from cotton mills, I think it may do as much harm as good,


  • Comment number 6.

    StanleyRIP: Your post cracked me up. Your post denounces the media for being biased, then you go into a standard leftie "Murdoch attack".

    All media is biased, that includes the BBC (climate change, the Labour party support, the love of the EU, hatred of Sarah Palin, I could go on) but the internet allows you to find a variety of views IF YOU WANT IT.

    I often hear (usually lefties) that the internet is bad for news because people only tend to get news from the political sites that reflect their views.

    But most people only buy a newspaper that reflects their political views. Not many Guardian readers will buy the Daily Mail for example.

    Rupert Murdoch should be commended for trying to push the way news is delivered and presented, whilst TV rolling news can at times be OTT, sometimes it is just brilliant (such as 9/11 coverage for example) in keeping us up to date with a story in a way papers can't.

    The idea of an iPad app is designed to bridge the print world with the live rolling news world. I don't know if Murdoch will succeed, I think he chose the wrong platform, the Android phone is the one to go for in my view, but you can bet the BBC and Guardian will be watching very closely.

  • Comment number 7.

    "We believe that tablets are the future of news consumption"

    Yeah but....what if I don't want to buy one? What if I don't want to carry a £x00 electronics device everywhere I go just to find out who Jordan is sleeping with now? Can't I keep my 30p newspaper that I can toss in a bin, or leave on the train or in the cafe/barber for someone else to read after?

  • Comment number 8.

    "Murdoch is the only one making any money out of me, indirectly from The Times pay wall but mostly because everyone else has there content freely available."

    The Times may be the only source you're directly paying for but apart from the BBC, the other sources of information you've listed there are all supported by advertising. They get paid depending on clicks or views of their adverts so you're supporting them financially in a way.

  • Comment number 9.

    'StanleyRIP: Your post cracked me up. Your post denounces the media for being biased, then you go into a standard leftie "Murdoch attack".'

    Gordonsglovepuppet, sorry, I don't attack Murdoch at all. I attack all print media with equal force, if you care to re-read my post.

    As I say, on things that I know about, rather than have opinions about, the BBC is more often right than not, none of the print media are,


  • Comment number 10.

    The real trick to news online would be to make the pay wall as transparent as possible. To buy a newspaper I simply need some coins, the transaction is simple and easy.

    Online however, I have to sign up, put down my credit card details, choose a password and remember it, then there’s the question of small simple payments via credit cards and charges that apply. Also I don’t think I would pay the same amount for online content, 20 pence a day – pay as you go. If that could be made easier, I might be more willing.

  • Comment number 11.

    This will sell.

    Apple fans will throw their money at any old rubbish as long as they're told to.

  • Comment number 12.

    Norphus @8

    A fair point.

    I don't think I've ever clicked on any adverts on an online newspaper in probably not far off 25,000 pages. However, I'm not exactly your average consumer.

    FWIW I haven't watched any commercial TV (expect for a few days per year when visiting friends/relatives) for the last decade either.

    If companies can get ads to pay then great. I doubt it. Although, I accept I may be completely wrong since sometimes half the UK population do seem to be ignorant, gullible and image obsessed.

  • Comment number 13.

    "his news empire has made all the running in terms of digital innovation over the last year"

    Some rational people think he is running headlong into a brick wall! There is as yet no indication if his pay walls will let him make more or less of a profit so the jury is well and truly out.

  • Comment number 14.


    Come on, you know what an iPad is for! You're just not sure why you should use one rather than a phone or a laptop. FWIW, I think it probably is sufficiently portable (though I haven't got one yet), and certainly a better experience than a phone or 5"-7" tablet.

    I also agree about the BBC's bias (climate change, the Tory party support, the cynicism towards the EU, hatred of Gaddafi, I could go on).

    I can also confirm that The_Ex_Engineer is indeed not your average consumer, and that CoalitionOfThe Wilting has made a truly remarkable contribution to the debate.

  • Comment number 15.

    Perhaps the problem of unlimited sources of news tailored to people's political opinions for greater sales is just that- too much variety. People will gravitate to news sources which tell them what they want to hear, or believe to be true.
    It doesn't seem to matter what the basis of these opinions is, only finding group solidarity.
    That smacks of mass denial to me. International, 24 hour news & information access is a wonderful tool, but it should be used to inform, not provide opinion. I agree with John's comments about poor quality journalism- what do most journalists really know about most of the subjects they present their opinions upon as fact? Usually not a great deal- no more than anyone knows about an area which isn't their specialism, and regardless of the amount of investigation done (if any, depending where you get your news), an external perspective on an issue will always be biased to some degree by the commentators viewpoint.
    There are real problems with opinion being presented as fact by uninformed journalists, particularly when it colours public perception on important issues- like voting systems, stem cell research, minority rights, welfare. The point, essentially, is that reporting the facts of the day's news ought to be a privilege- not a platform for the journalist's opinion on said facts- surely people are intelligent enough that they don't need journalists to tell them what their opinion on something ought to be; for me at least facts are quite enough from the news, I'll make my own judgements about them. And perhaps if we want more information on a specialist subject, it should come from the specialists, not from whoever has the loudest voice.

  • Comment number 16.

    Dure its free now but wait till you see what happens when you tell them to pay.

  • Comment number 17.

  • Comment number 18.

    I suspect the app will gain sufficient paying customers for the development costs to be recouped.

    I hope the Beeb has enough conviction to launch its own BBC News iPad app (which should be free of course).


  • Comment number 19.

    The future of online news is multi-source. Unlike newspapers with their bulk and price tags, people do not need to be tied to one publication - because there are so many that are free. News aggregation tools whether via an app or a third party source can bundle up all your favourites and give you all perspectives imaginable. In this future, only really excellent value-adding news aggregators will survive (just) by charging. Individual media organisations that charge will wither. This is the democratising element of the internet - the people will no longer have to receive their news from a single (probably biased) source.

  • Comment number 20.

    If I were managing this project, I'd make sure that it was released simultaneously for tablets and Internet TVs. That UI is going to be all but unreadable on a 7" or 10" screen, but on a large TV it' could work really well. What proportion of Mr Murdoch's customer base (apart from WSJ readers) are likely to have iPads and data plans with generous monthly limits? What proportion are likely to either have Internet TVs or Sky+ boxes?

    Maybe they haven't done it because they can't figure out how to do the navigation without a touch screen?

    And yes, I do want the iPlayer UI to look like that on my TV, Rory.....

  • Comment number 21.

    GordonGlovePuppet, I am fed up with ignorant people like you running down the iPad. I own an iPad and, since i acquired it, I hardly ever use my laptop. It is far more portable than a laptop, does not suffer from having the dreadful Windows OS and is an absolute joy to use.

  • Comment number 22.

    Nigel, an iPad is basicaly a big iPhone. Even the cheapest netbook out performs it in every aspect.

  • Comment number 23.

    I have the sky news app for iphone which I like and use but I use the BBC app more often not because the BBC app is better (Its probably worse) but because of the content. I'm also a sky subscriber so if a I get an Ipad then it won't cost me any extra for the sky news app.

    I'm not sure non-subscribers will pay for the new IPad app as there are so many other sources of news on the internet which are quite rightly free and it is also possible to watch sky news on the internet for free.

    It seems the new Ipad app is innovative but whether it adds sufficiently to my news consumption to pay for it I doubt.

    As ever the debate seems to have degenerated into is the IPad better then a netbook or is android better than IOS. The point is whether you like it or not more than 15 million people own an ipad and there will be alot more by the end of March.

    That is a very large market to tap into for advertisers on a platform that is very media friendly. Any newspaper, magazine etc that relies on advertising for its revenue would be foolish to ignore it.

  • Comment number 24.

    Rory - why is this app so impressive?

    Other reviews I have seen in both the right and left wing press both claim that it isn't actually that good and the website is much better and that the reason this app isn't yet charging is because it still appears to be a work in progress.

  • Comment number 25.

    For those that don't 'get' the iPad, you really need to use one to understand what it's all about. I'm all for Apple products but had originally held off buying an iPad as I couldn't see it's purpose. When the iPad 2 was announced I decided to take the plunge and buy the original iPad on the cheap. I have to say I am really impressed and totally 'get' it now. I do not think it is a replacement for a smartphone but I think it compliments my iPhone wonderfully and as a media consumption device it is superb. As someone who has a mild vision impairment, I find the accessibility wonderful and find the iPad my method of choice for accessing the Internet in a comfortable user friendly manner. With the quality of apps being produced, I see tablet computers going from strength to strength. Having said that, I do not read books on my iPad. I have a kindle and find this much better for proper reading

    The new sky news app is superb but I would not pay a monthly charge for it so when they start doing this it will be deleted. There are enough free ways to get news - or paid apps without a subscription - that paying a fee every month is really unnecessary but completely typical of $ky

  • Comment number 26.

    I am not buying into his vision - he is a greedy man. Not to take any sides, the BBC news content is better, richer and feels more robust than Sky News content

  • Comment number 27.

    There is no point to tablets. They are a step back in technology. Apple and other companies should have released tablets before smart phones. If you need a larger screen, you will take a laptop or netbook with you as it has a keyboard for faster text input; netbooks also have larger HDD capacities, thus they can hold more files and are more convenient. If you're considering getting a tablet, then it is wise to look at smart phones, netbooks and PDAs as well. You will probably find a better deal.

    I have a smart phone and I use it everyday in exactly the same way as a user would use his/her iPad. A smart phone screen is big enough screen to read web pages, listen to music & play games; basically everything you can do on the iPad.

  • Comment number 28.

    @Bristolboy - Firstly this is by far the best development of an ipad app in this genre. You really need to have a feel of it for you to appreciate it.

    @Narguk - You couldnt be more wrong. Netbook running high graphics games? i dont think so. Netbooks are designed for one purpose only and the name kinda gives it away. Ipads are a multi purpose tool. If you dont see the point in one dont get one.

    Lets not turn this into another anti apple forum. If you dont like it read else where

  • Comment number 29.

    @OVesel1y - dont tell me, you own an Android?

  • Comment number 30.

    Give Rupert Murdoch credit?

    Surely it is obvious that Keith R Murdoch's (one sure way to annoy him is to use his first name!) plan is to launch a bid to take over Apple....

  • Comment number 31.

    Tablets will only become a 'must have' when they offer something that can ONLY be obtained by such a channel.

    A tie-up with, say, Fox could provide exclusive movie premieres on iPad only - or, more likely, a catch-up/preview television service.

    And KRM won't want to share revenue....

  • Comment number 32.

    Rory Cellan-Jones.

    "Whatever you think of Rupert Murdoch, give him credit for one thing - his news empire has made all the running in terms of digital innovation over the last year."

    yes, in parallel with closely co-operating with the Metropolitan Police on the News of the World 'scandal'. LOL. good ole Rupe..

    "But across the Murdoch empire - of which Sky News may soon be a distant cousin - the evidence that paywalls are working is still hazy."

    if by working you mean profitable, maybe the greed of the application and service providers has someting to do with it; the Financial Times is having it out with Apple:

    "..Apple announced a new subscription service for magazines, newspapers and music bought through its app store, but offered tough terms including keeping 30% of subscription revenues and retaining control of customer information."

  • Comment number 33.

    I'll stick with my Android phone with Flash 10.2 support which was released today (Friday 18th)

    With that i can browse any good news outlet and watch and read anything i like ;)

    P.S I use BBC for all my news reading anyway ;)

  • Comment number 34.

    Checked the TV listings on my iPad before watching a film last evening. Kept an eye on the Libya news most of the evening, on my iPad.
    Read a book on the iPad (in bed) whilst listening to iPad music in the background. Set my iPad alarm and went to sleep.
    Woke, listening to radio on iPad, read BBC news, checked email and Facebook. Still in bed, checked list of things to do today, on the iPad. Added a touch to the new loft room design (iDesign is such a nice app) that I'd forgotten. Getting hungry, just realised that I need to add eggs to my shopping list on the Grocery Gadget app. Moved some money with the banking app.

    Really must get out of bed now.

    Nah, these tablets will never catch on.

  • Comment number 35.

    I have had a look at the app this morning. Apart from lots of atricles on Libya and a short (30 Second) video on Japan there isnt anything else to look at.

    Compare this to the free BBC News app that mirrors the BBC News Website. I can rummage around on any given subject and find relevant articles.

    Once again Sky seem to offer the shiny whistles and bells, but there is no depth.

    Can't imagine why anyone would want to pay £5 for it.

  • Comment number 36.

    The iPod could become the future of our technology however there are still other options for our technology's future.

  • Comment number 37.

    ..alternatively you can get an Android tablet (or phone) and stream all the BBC channels in HD, the iPlayer in HD and related articles/ sport and on any from site/ interactive content you choose directly from your browser. All this without having to pay any extra money to Apple or Murdoch £5 a month.

    Maybe if the BBC looked towards the better/cheaper/free alternatives they would have no need to report things like: "The application goes further than anything I've seen so far in delivering a television news service crafted for a tablet computer."

  • Comment number 38.

    I'm loving the new iPad im just not sure about its price, it seems over priced to me but I could be wrong. I don't like being locked in to the app store either we live in a free world and we should have a free market.

  • Comment number 39.

    @ 18. Dagi
    I don't know if you're being sarcastic, but BBC News already has an iPhone and iPad app. It is pretty slow and quite poor, but they have it!


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