The BBC is set to expand its online operations with a drive into applications for mobile phones, a business that the broadcaster termed a "top priority".
Erik Huggers, the director of future media and technology at the corporation, yesterday announced plans to launch apps for BBC News and BBC Sport for the first time as well as a dedicated app for the iPlayer, its online catch-up service. However, the move is likely to cause concern among its commercial rivals.
The news app will first be available on the iPhone from April, with apps compatible with the BlackBerry and devices based on Google's Android operating system and others following shortly after. The sports app will be launched in time for the football World Cup in June.
Paolo Pescatore, the director of applications and services at CCS Insight, said: "This was a missing piece of the jigsaw for the BBC's digital strategy and this is likely to be the start of many apps to come. Certainly the iPhone represents the platform that everyone needs to get on."
This is the first time it has developed the full apps for news and sport, and it will overhaul its iPlayer app, which is little more than a link to the website in its existing state.
The pay TV broadcaster BSkyB has been "hugely successful with the uptake in apps," he added, with ones including its Sky Sports Score Centre, which will go head-to-head with the BBC's new sports app. It will also compete with news apps developed by the national newspapers, including The Independent.
Yet, Mr Pescatore said, the move could cause problems. "This is likely to increase the tension between free and paid-for news. The BBC will always encounter resistance for moves like this."
This is part of the corporation's move to expand its internet and mobile operations, as Mr Huggers told delegates at the Mobile World Congress trade fair in Barcelona that "BBC online is about to become the third platform of the BBC". Apps have been vary much in the news at the conference, after 24 mobile operators agreed to team up to create a common platform to develop apps for potentially 3 billion customers around the world
Mr Huggers said mobile phones were a "great conduit to our audience" and were a huge area of growth for the broadcaster's online operations, since it launched its mobile browser eight years ago. "The BBC has strongly embraced mobile as part of its digital strategy," Mr Pescatore said.
The BBC said it experienced a 40 per cent jump in users accessing its websites via mobile phone on what Mr Huggers termed "the snow day" of 2 February last year. The death of Michael Jackson also pushed traffic up 14 times, and unexpectedly, the users did not fall, Mr Huggers said. He added: "Never before have I had to reset business targets three times in a year."
There has been much debate during the conference over how the rise in mobile data has put an increased strain on the networks, with operators considering various ways to fund upgrades.
Mr Huggers yesterday conceded that the BBC's services such as the iPlayer – which played 150 million videos in December alone – were putting a strain on the network. "We want to work with the industry to make sure rich media doesn't become a choking point," adding: "It's an area we need to work on."Reuse content