Tuesday, July 5, 2011

NBC Universal's mobile apps for enhanced viewing of the Tour de France angers viewers by 'double dipping'

Despite the lack of an American leading the pack, there is still quite a bit of interest in cycling's premier event, the Tour de France. The race, first staged in 1903, covers about 2,000 miles, and can be seen live and taped on Versus, the NBC Universal owned cable channel.
No surprise then that NBC would want to put out an iPad app to capitalize on the event by offering its viewers an enhanced experience.

The problem is that quite a number of cycling enthusiasts had already signed up for the network's online enhanced video package, costing $29.95. The package gives online viewers live and exclusive video, live GPS tracking of the race, and the ability to follow your favorite rider.

But the day before the race was to begin, NBC launched a universal app for the iPad and iPhone, as well as an Android version. While the apps are free, to access the live video you have to pay $14.99.

The iOS version found in Apple's App Store makes this additional purchase very clear, but Google's Android Market does not spell out this little detail.

But users in both stores are trashing the app for basically the same reason: if you paid the $29.95 to gain online access and then downloaded the mobile app you will find that you will have to pay once again to access the content on your mobile device. Reviewers have accused NBC of "double dipping" by requiring the separate payment for the mobile app.

Reviewer "Jeffrey Jones" writes "I already paid $29 online to watch live, why is the app asking me to upgrade and pay $15 to watch live video?! Can't I sign in w/ the username to my existing online acct and be able to watch w/ the app???"

Another writes "it now seems clear why NBC did not release this app until the day before the Tour de France 2011. They must have been trying to dupe as many people as possible into purchasing the Silverlight PC/Mac version access for twice the amount of the app."

It's a ripoff, no doubt about it. But this situation is caused by not being clear with the customer, and Apple's own requirement that apps not contain direct links to out of app purchase mechanisms. A little creativity can get you around this, but the rules are pretty vague. If the app had simply been a "reader" app, where an already existing subscription would instantly give you access to the content without an in-app purchase, this would have avoided this mess.

But if they really wanted to go this route – with two different purchase options – it would have been better to have had the app ready several weeks early, and then test the app review teams with a more customer friendly approach. In the end, it is always better to have to deal with the app review teams than to purposely make your own customer's angry.