Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Morning Brief: new magazine tablet apps that take radically different approaches; EU approves News Corp's acquisition of BSkyB; FCC set to vote today on new rules

It's the first day of Winter (officially), so naturally that means that a couple of inches of snow needed to be cleared this morning. Hopefully it's sunny and warm where you are.

Here is a preview of a couple of new apps that have been released in the past 24 hours from two very different sources.
The first we'll look at later this today is from Chris English, under the Tablazine label. Hoodgrown is the rebirth of a previously closed print magazine, now given a new life as a tablet edition. The magazine is ad supported and has its own ad team (yeah), complete with media kit (double yeah). I can not tell you how many magazines have launched with a media kit ready to go and available on the website, probably Hoodgrown is the first I've seen (great job guys).

The second magazine app is from American City & County, the trade magazine for the municipal market that has had more owners lately than Cliff Lee (sorry, baseball reference). Now published under the Penton Media umbrella following the merger with Prism Business Media, the app is another of those RSS driven apps from Handmark. We'll try and keep an open mind, but . . .

Despite much opposition, News Corp. today received approval from the European Commission for its proposed full take over of the British Sky Broadcasting Group, known as BSkyB, the satellite broadcasting company.

"I am confident that this merger will not weaken competition in the United Kingdom. The effects on media plurality are a matter for the UK authorities," The Guardian quotes EU competition commissioner, Joaquin Almunia.

In the US, Comcast still awaits approval from the FTC and the Department of Justice for its proposed merger with NBC Universal. Level 3 Communications has been pushing to have conditions added to any agreement due to its recent run in with the cable company and ISP. "Comcast's recent decision to charge for the delivery of content to Comcast, which has been requested by Comcast's subscribers clearly, has important competitive and public-policy implications," Level 3 CEO James Crowe wrote in a letter to the FTC.

Many believe today is the day many will remember as the day the Internet died, as the FCC is scheduled to vote today on new rules regarding so-called Net Neutrality rules. The reason for the pessimism is because the commissioners seem intent on opening the door to a tiered Internet, or as Timothy Karr wrote yesterday on Huffington Post: "broadband payola - letting phone and cable companies charge steep tolls to favor the content and services of a select group of corporate partners, relegating everyone else to the cyber-equivalent of a winding dirt road."

Publishers have been noticeably missing from the discussion. They remind me of some of the construction executives I used to talk with in Washington who were pushing hard for more trade with China in order to grow their businesses, but are now complaining that China is taking their technology and becoming competitors. These executives simply were not thinking through the consequences of their positions. Likewise, media executives seem naturally inclined to want to support the ISPs without understanding that a multi-tiered Internet may result in higher fees or lower bandwidth for their own products -- not everyone will be viewed as important to a company like Comcast or AT&T as their own media properties.

Apple has pulled the WikiLeaks App, and because of this is getting a fair amount of bad press this morning. But because the app is missing many people will not see that the app was not actually from WikiLeaks at all, but from Igor Barinov publishing under the "Hint Solutions" name.

The app was charging $1.99 for access to the same content available for free online, a clear violation of Apple's terms, and a rip off to boot. Of course, that won't stop some from screaming "censorship". And that's too bad, because it will confuse the real issue here: Apple's continued poor judgement concerning media apps. This app shouldn't have been pulled because it should not have been approved to begin with as it does two things that should be a plain violation of the rules: it charges for content that is free on the web, and it uses the name of another entity without that entity's approval. Had this app been called the NYTimes and then was pulled no one would have been surprised.