The battle for Seattle TV station news supremacy has been upped a notch, albeit slightly, with the debut this week of a new mobile app for KING-TV (NBC, Ch. 5). Unlike its competitors at KOMO, KIRO, and KCPQ, the KING 5 app is the area’s only local mobile source that provides its users with live real-time feeds from its on-air news shows.
Even in the Internet news age, Seattle’s local TV news remains important to viewers here. The race for audiences continues apace; KING 5, long the local news leader in all day parts, has seen its rating challenged primarily from KIRO 7, which claims it now leads KING 5 in its 11 p.m. news slot, and in the early morning 4:30 a.m.-5 a.m. news slots. (A call to KING 5 to confirm these figures was not returned by publication time.)
The competitive edge for each station is mostly out of their hands: Entertainment programming on their affiliated broadcast networks significantly affects consumers' viewing habits. But with TV news contributing the lion’s share of any local station’s revenues, any small edge is a further step toward a ratings victory. It would appear that the stepped-up resources of the KING 5 app are additional weapons in that war. (Here’s a link to the station’s mobile apps download page.)
I tested apps from all four Seattle commercial stations with major local news operations on my own mobile arsenal: the new-generation iPad, a 3Gs iPhone, an Android Droid Bionic, and a Windows Phone Lumia 900. All the tests were conducted on a fast WiFi network (10+ megabytes per second).
In features, the KING 5 app looms large over its competitors. Its real-time live news feature is unique among them. Weather reports on the iPad and iPhone can be localized to your area. While both KING and KIRO provide WSDOT camera views of our traffic grid, the KING 5 iPad view offers a slick map, which places the cameras on the grid itself. Want to see what the traffic looks like at I-5 and NE 42nd Street? There’s a pic for that (see photo).
The iPhone implementation is different: It offers selected WSDOT camera locales, but not the iPad map. It does have the real-time traffic conditions WSDOT map familiar to computer users.
The weather section was fairly standard, with radar views, seven-day forecasts, and satellite maps of the greater Puget Sound area. It would have been better to see these views time-stamped; perhaps that will come in a later version. The iPad version is the only app with a “Conditions” tab that provides weather reporting for your specific location, although both the iPhone and Android apps give you a location specific temperature reading.
All the apps come with video links to various KING 5 shows and personalities such as “Get Jesse,” “Health Link” and “Evening Magazine.”
There were some glitches. The live video would run smoothly, then lapse into a few seconds of badly fragmented video, then return to normal. I also had trouble getting the Windows Phone version to function at all. Its look was different, following Microsoft’s new-design “tile” look, but I could get nothing to work with that version.
The app apparently has been designed by Belo Corp., which owns 20 stations, including our local KING 5. According to a press release, the apps will offer area-specific weather radar, notifications about breaking news, and a scrolling ticker for up-to-the-minute updates. It also promises to stream over 300 hours of “high-quality on demand video programming each month to any video-capable mobile device.” Calls to KING 5 to get details on some of those plans were not answered immediately.
While KING 5 was busy making its live news programs available to mobile users, Comcast still remained dysfunctional in its rollout of mobile and/or off-cable services to its subscribers.
Comcast is among the cable companies behind the “TV Everywhere” concept, which enables their subscribers to watch programming from HBO, ESPN, and others on iPads, iPhones, Android smartphones, and tablets. Cable customers need to sign with their cable companies and be authorized to view these shows.
HBO Go is available for viewing by Comcast subscribers on iPads, iPhones, and Android devices, and on Google TV, but is banned from being watched on the Xbox and Roku set top boxes. MaxGo, a service from HBO sister network Cinemax, is still not authorized by Comcast on any mobile device although other cable companies feature it. Watch ESPN, the live viewing of multiple channels of ESPN sports programming, was just allowed for Apple iOS — but not for Android Gingerbread systems.
Meanwhile arch-Comcast competitor Time Warner Cable announced this week, as noticed by TechCrunch, that its subscribers can watch HBO Go on the Xbox, Roku boxes and Samsung Internet-connected TV sets. Repeated requests to Comcast by this writer and others for an explanation of why this rollout seems hopelessly arbitrary have gone unanswered.
Comcast also made good/bad news this week by announcing it would initiate tests in some markets to charge those Internet customers who rack up what the cable company see as excessive use of its network. According to a Bloomberg/Business Week story, the company said it would impose additional costs for those exceeding 300 gigabytes (gb) of usage per month: perhaps $10 for 50 additional gigabytes. An average TV viewer uses 8 to 10 gb a month, the article noted. The viewers that Comcast will be watching consume roughly the equivalent of 100 high definition movies per month, the article noted.
A Comcast spokesperson had no information whether these tests would be conducted in the Seattle area.