BBC: HTML5 ‘Starting to Sail Off-Course’

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Many see HTML5 as the future for the delivery of web-based video, as well as a standards-based replacement for proprietary formats — like Adobe Flash — that dominate video delivery today. But Erik Huggers, director of Future Media & Technology at the BBC, cautions that HTML5 is not yet ready for primetime, and that certain companies could end up undermining the open nature of the standard by pushing their own agenda.

Huggers wrote in a blog post today that “there’s still a lot of work to be done on HTML5” before the broadcaster can integrate the nascent web standard into its products. More importantly, Huggers warned that HTML5 standardization risks going off-course as proprietary implementations of the technology are developed.

While defending the BBC’s embrace of open standards for delivery of its media across multiple devices, he writes that Adobe Flash right now is the “most efficient way to deliver a high-quality experience to the broadest possible audience.” That’s due in part to Flash’s ubiquity, with some 98 percent of all Internet-connected PCs having the plugin installed. But when looking to the future, many see HTML5 as the obvious replacement for Flash, as it provides much of the same interactivity and tools for video delivery, while also remaining an open standard.

The problem is, HTML5 still lags Flash in the maturity of tools necessary for the delivery and monetization of video — including advertising, reporting and content security. This has caused many content providers to back off using the technology as a way to reach devices, like the Apple iPad, that don’t support Flash.

Huggers doesn’t name names, but it’s clear he’s referring to Apple’s efforts to codify certain aspects of its implementation of HTML5 as it pushes for wider adoption of the web standard for delivery of video and web applications to its iPad and iPhone mobile devices. “Not too long ago some browser vendors were showcasing proprietary HTML5 implementations; which in my view threaten to undermine the fundamental promise,” Huggers writes, which most likely refers to Apple’s showcase of HTML5 capabilities — which, not surprisingly, is only available through its Safari browser.

When certain players push proprietary implementations of a new standard, that’s when the standardization process goes awry, Huggers argues.

“The tension between individual motivation and collective consensus has brought an end to many noble causes in the past, and here, the pace of progress appears to be slowing on bringing HTML5 to a ratified state. History suggests that multiple competing proprietary standards lead to a winner-takes-all scenario, with one proprietary standard at the top of the stack, which is not where most of us want to be,” he writes.

In other words, while Apple has been instrumental in pushing HTML5 adoption by not supporting Flash in its mobile products, it could also undermine the standardization process by pushing a proprietary implementation of the web standard. Which isn’t good for anyone, or the future of HTML5.

Photo by Michael Halminski, courtesy of NOAA’s National Weather Service (NWS) Collection.

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