UK TV news channel Sky News has launched an impressive iPad app that marks a significant investment in Apple’s tablet as a news consumption device.

Rather than present a curated run-down of the top stories, the default view is a timeline that presents the latest video reports and interviews as soon as they’re broadcast by the TV channel.

Tap any video and it begins playing in the centre of the screen, while a selection of associated content such as written stories from the channel’s website, graphs, maps and related video reports are displayed around the side. A button next to each video opens up a timeline allowing you to see the context of the current story. The result is an app that combines the “lean back” experience of consuming TV news with a more interactive way of exploring stories and their context at your own pace.

ipad timeline Sky News launches iPad app, and a huge investment in tablet based TV news

If you’d prefer a more traditional experience, recent reports are available in a ‘Top Stories’ view and you can stream the channel live too, with the ability to scrub back one minute into the past. Impressively, this works even if you’ve just loaded up the stream, meaning that there’s less chance of missing an important live report as it goes out.

The investment that’s gone into this app shouldn’t be underestimated. Developed over the past year by an in-house team at Sky News’ parent company BSkyB, the app has a dedicated team of fifteen staff that work to keep it updated with content using a custom-built content management system.

Rather than defer to the broadcast editor or the website’s editor, the app’s team curates the content of the app autonomously, using the wide range of web and broadcast TV assets at their disposal in the newsroom.

At present, the app is free although at some point in the future it will be available as a subscription-based service, or for free to subscribers of Sky’s satellite TV service.
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I was invited to a preview of the app yesterday, and the quality and sheer ambition of the project impressed me. The development team says that testing has revealed many users prefer the unconventional timeline interface to the more familiar ‘top stories’ approach – a surprising but encouraging finding for the team who were aiming to be “brave” by developing something different to a standard TV news app.

In the future, interactive commenting features are likely to be added, while support for submitting user generated content captured from the iPad 2’s cameras is also being discussed as a possibility.

Given that the iPad must still represent a tiny proportion of the channel’s overall audience, this app, its custom-built CMS and its dedicated staff team are a significant bet on the future tablet market. A version for Android tablets is planned, with no definite release date.

While I was at Sky News’s Westminster studio yesterday, I had a chance to interview the channel’s Political Editor, Adam Boulton about the app. Sadly I hit him with no hardball questions, but he discussed the way the app repurposes TV news content in a new way. Sky News for iPad is free to download now.

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