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Summary:

Steve Jobs may be betting the upcoming fifth revision to the web’s HTML language will fill iOS’ Flash gap, but the BBC doesn’t think that pr…

Erik Huggers

Steve Jobs may be betting the upcoming fifth revision to the web’s HTML language will fill iOS’ Flash gap, but the BBC doesn’t think that prospect is going to happen any time soon.

The corporation’s future media and technology director Erik Huggers writes: “The fact is that there’s still a lot of work to be done on HTML5 before we can integrate it fully into our products. As things stand, I have concerns about HTML5′s ability to deliver on the vision of a single open browser standard which goes beyond the whole debate around video playback.”

The World Web Web Consortium (W3C) released the latest working draft of the HTML5 spec Thursday of the revision, which is being edited by a Googler and which will include native video support, obviating the need for plugins, as well as other enhancements.

But Huggers writes: “HTML5 is starting to sail off-course. Not too long ago, some browser vendors were showcasing proprietary HTML5 implementations; which in my view threaten to undermine the fundamental promise.”

He said “recent activity in the HTML5 Working Group, the apparent split between W3C and WhatWG”, and the fact Microsoft (NSDQ: MSFT) hasn’t yet released its HTML5-supporting browser indicate “tension between individual motivation and collective consensus“. He asks them “to continue fervently on the path you began”; “we are counting on you to bring one HTML5 to the web and the W3C to help make this happen”.

The BBC is invested in a long-standing strategic relationship signed with Adobe late in 2007, allowing it to move its media delivery away from RealMedia to Flash. So it’s Flash on which one of the world’s most popular VOD services is now built – BBC iPlayer served 100.2 million online requests in June.

But Huggers denies this “betrays our commitment to open standards”: “Our use of Flash is not a case of BBC favouritism, rather it currently happens to be the most efficient way to deliver a high quality experience to the broadest possible audience.”

On that point, even Google’s YouTube agrees, saying recently (perhaps to Google’s chagrin) that HTML5 is not yet ready for video prime-time.

Indeed, clever coding means the BBC delivers iPhone/mobile web and iPad web versions of iPlayer video through those devices’ native video players like QuickTime (NYSE: TWX), without needing Flash.

It’s ironic that, when Huggers’ predecessor debuted iPlayer in 2007 as a Windows-only desktop app, angry campaigners demanded the Beeb launch a Flash web version.

Other media operators like Absolute Radio have been more eager, already rewriting parts of their site in HTML5 to deliver embedded video.

Huggers told paidContent:UK in May: “I can guarantee you that, in the labs, there

  1. I am not sure that I recall anyone – at all – who “demanded the Beeb launch a flash web version” of iPlayer when it was first introduced as Windows-only. The campaign was very vociferously criticising the BBC for making the feature Windows-only and urging that other platforms be supported (as of course licence-fee-payers may be using any platform), and definitely not, to my memory, proposing any specific alternative transport mechanism, let alone specifying flash. I further seem to recall that the initial choice of Windows only was presented as a DRM issue and not a flash/non-flash issue. I don’t even recall flash being mentioned at the time.

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  2. Huggers says that ‘the fact Microsoft hasn’t yet released its HTML5-supporting browser indicate “tension between individual motivation and collective consensus”’ which is a fairly ridiculous statement. Microsoft haven’t released a browser that conforms to contemporary standards for very many years, arguably never at all.

    If you equate what MS conform to with support in their browser with their faith in a technology or standard, then you could argue that they don’t believe in pretty much all of the web and all its technologies and standards.

    On the other hand, the ‘proper’ browser manufacturers are rushing out releases all the time to add support for HTML5, CSS3 etc.

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  3. I’m confused, because I don’t think that QuickTime is a free-standing company, let alone one with the NYSE stock symbol TWX, which sounds curiously like the symbol for Time Warner. In addition, HTML isn’t the fifth revision of HTML, it’s the fourth major revision.

    Microsoft’s IE was the only browser with any market share that even reasonably complied with HTML 3.2. Agreed that was some time ago, but it’s been quite some while since I’ve looked under the hood.

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  4. “HTML5 is starting to sail off-course. Not too long ago, some browser vendors were showcasing proprietary HTML5 implementations; which in my view threaten to undermine the fundamental promise.”
    LOL. He probably need to read a little bit more the docs, maybe this article can help him: http://www.alistapart.com/articles/prefix-or-posthack/ (tl;dr: prefixes have been deliberately introduced and are not evil, you just need to know how they work ;-).

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  5. The author was WAY off course with this post. He clearly doesn’t get the concept of vendor prefixes (or even better, generic prefixes) for implementing new features (ie, CSS3) in browsers, so they can be TESTED in the real world, and people can progressively enhance their sites.

    Moreover, to suggest people were demanding a Flash version of iPlayer is ludicrous. I specifically remember the uproar was over the fact that they were using DRM, and more so, that it only worked in microsoft windows computers. That was the problem people had.

    Personally I understand why Flash is still needed in online video distribution, but I don’t think the author does. To put it simply, with HTML5 there isn’t a way to distribute video in a protected fashion, in which ads can be streamed into, and metrics can be gathered. Yes, we can embed videos with the “video” or “media” tag, but not every browser has agreed on which codecs will be supported, and worse yet, they’re pushing h.264 down our throats (eventhough it’s pretty and performs well, it’s NOT open, and it’s license can and likely WILL be modified in the future so vendors, or worse users, would have to pay to play). Remember the .GIF nightmare on the internet?

    Anyway… I just had to comment after reading this. Boo!

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  6. Actually Jackson, h.264 licensing was just modified, only it was modified for the better by extending the free portions of the licensing effectively forever:

    http://www.businesswire.com/news/home/20100825006629/en

    And I’m noto sure the .gif thing applies. h.264 didn’t start out free and then suddenly have licensing restrictions that surprised and killed millions of existing products that were all caught unawares.

    Rather h.264 started out requiring licensing under certain conditions and not under others. Firefox has refused to use it due to the fact that they simply don’t wish to pay the licensing fee. Their stand is idealistic and admirable on the face of it, but probably something that they will eventually give in on when Flash starts being phased out (not anytime soon though). There isn’t a viable alternative to h.264 that’s completely license free. And no Ogg Theora is NOT a VIABLE alternative.

    I too remember the complaint about iPlayer being that it was Windows only though. I don’t remember the requests being that it use Flash but rather that it work on multiple operating systems. Flash was just the best choice at the time for doing that.

    Solutions for the protection of the media, mid-stream bit rate adjustments, etc. will come in time to the HTML5 based solutions. But for now at least Flash definitely has it’s place and I’d be shocked if it’s gone anytime soon. But I do see it dying a slow death as technologies before it have.

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