Blog Post

Don’t Expect HTML5 to Overtake Flash Anytime Soon

YouTube (s GOOG) made a bit of noise yesterday with the introduction of a new video player that uses HTML5 standard, which (in theory) could enable browsers to render video without an installed plugin like Adobe’s (s ADBE) Flash player. With the largest Flash video site in the universe now playing around with an open standard, one might think that the end is nigh for the video plugin. But the inherent limitations of YouTube’s implementation just go to show why HTML5 won’t reach mainstream adoption anytime soon.

For one thing, there’s the question of ubiquity. Due to standards issues, not all browsers support YouTube’s HTML5 videos. Users could only test the player out if they were using Chrome, Safari, or Internet Explorer with Google’s ChromeFrame installed, because its HTML5 videos are encoded using H.264, which isn’t supported by Firefox and Opera. Standards around things like video codecs are slow to develop, and until they do, so an HTML5-only YouTube probably won’t be viable across all browsers anytime soon.

Despite requiring a plugin, Adobe Flash is the leading technology for web video today, with more than 75 percent of all worldwide streams, including YouTube’s. That’s because the Flash client is installed in some 98 percent of Internet-connected computers, and is also supported by a wide variety of mobile devices. As Adobe CTO Kevin Lynch said at NewTeeVee Live, HTML5 “is trying to do what Flash already does today.” So if YouTube were to move to HTML5, it would actually reduce the number of users that would be able to access its videos, whether they needed a plugin or not.

More importantly, the vast majority of web video advertising is created with Flash in mind, and this is apparent with YouTube’s HTML5 testing ground. Videos that the company monetizes are not viewable through HTML5, for the basic reason that there aren’t any ads available to show. With the video ad market just now starting to take off, and the vast majority of those ads being created in Flash, it will be difficult for a video publisher to transition to another format without seriously hurting potential ad revenues.

It’s still early days for HTML5, but despite YouTube’s dabbling there probably won’t be any large-scale implementations of video sites adopting it anytime soon. Without a critical mass of users that are actually able to view the videos, or advertisers to support them, there’s little reason for them to do so.

32 Responses to “Don’t Expect HTML5 to Overtake Flash Anytime Soon”

  1. Lol, you people are a joke, ESPECIALLY Jmababa.

    Only idiots and noobs use Dreamweaver to make a website, professionals code it normally, like smart human beings.

    Flash is clumsy and dying.. the only reason it’s so good is because it has been developing for over 14 years. HTML has accomplished in a couple years what Flash has accomplished in decades… grats, lol.

    • @Patch: Dreamweaver is used by professionals, and it does have a code view in addition to WYSIWYG.

      And Flash is far from dying; with it being installed on 98% of the computers connected to the Internet, it is more ubiquitous than Internet Explorer and even Microsoft Windows. HTML has not accomplished anything near what Flash has done, and will probably be always behind Flash. lol

    • Cailean Babcock

      So you’re trying to illustrate how Adobe is holding back the development of the web by failing to support their customers’ needs? I’m sure we can find any number of competing companies who would be happy to step in and fill the gap, and probably for a heck of a lot less money.

    • Cailean Babcock

      I’m a Mac user. How is HTML5 useless? It works just fine for me in Apple’s own Safari, not to mention Firefox and Google Chrome. I’m spoiled for choice.

      Also, how does your personal collection of SWF files on your hard drive, playable through the cross-platform VLC movie player, and transcodeable through any number of free, easy-to-use conversion programs (again, VLC), have anything to do with web standards development?

  2. My two cents for the HTML5 v Flash debate…

    Flash is WYSIWYG; write once, view anywhere. HTML isn’t and never will be. Once multiple implementers attempt to adopt responsibility for a technology it becomes impossible to maintain or trust. Look how MS killed Java with their proprietary VM. Are we to ignore the myriad of interbrowser inconsistencies and quirks required to work with already mature standards? Who’s to dictate how video should really be encoded and decoded for web viewing… hell even in 2010 I can still encode valid MP3 files that won’t render correctly through every decoder.

    DOM manipulation will render ad supported HTML5 video impotent. You can’t happily hack at bytecode on the fly to ‘skip’ ads, but a simple (for example) greasemonkey script will rescind your control of your content. Period.

    The anti-flash camp like to moan about a mythical inherent instability of the platform. I can assure you if HTML5 “takes over” you’ll be just as screwed by the very same infinite loops written by the very same bad developers – only this time your page will bomb and not just a plugin. For the last few major versions Flash has automatically halted a script that exceeds 15s execution. On the flip side the latest Firefox build locked when I told it while(1) 15 minutes ago, and it’s still not responding – curiously it’s memory commit is growing.

    And don’t be deluded into thinking if Flash didn’t exist you would be nagged by obnoxious, loud advertisements. I assure you advertisers could annoy us without a plugin; they’re merely using Flash because writing 49 different versions of the same irritating ad to work across a fragmented platform isn’t cost effective.

    Don’t get me wrong, HTML5 will have its uses. Limited uses… I digress.

    I’d like to see Adobe open up the player tech a little if it’ll mean accelerating it’s development – but they need to keep control of her ultimate dissemination.

    Ok, bored now.

    • Cailean Babcock

      Actually, HTML IS WYSIWYG, thank’s to Adobe’s own Dreamweaver product. Man, for an Adobe shill you’re not very good at this.

      If you think Flash isn’t unstable, it’s because you’re probably running Windows. As for that 15s wait time, when Flash locks up on me (on a daily basis), it usually takes about 5 minutes before it informs me that there’s something wrong. I find that to be a bit of a chronological discrepancy if you ask me.

      The write-once-deliver-anywhere paradigm only works if Flash is available on every platform and with concurrent versions guaranteed, which they simply aren’t. The only people who have control of that are the marketing guys at Adobe, who don’t see the profitability in maintaining such high standards.

      Question: how does saying that Flash advertisements are just as bad as HTML advertisements support Flash’s case?

      If Adobe really wants to make Flash a de facto standard, they should do exactly what they did with the PDF format – open it. They can still create the best development tools, just like they do with Photoshop. However, their business model is going to eventually force Flash to become a second-class citizen, as all proprietary formats thus far eventually do (RealPlayer comes to mind).

      Java, by the way, is still alive and well after people just stopped supporting Microsoft’s proprietary VM.

      Sorry to hear about your MP3 woes – I personally can’t remember the last time I had any difficulty playing an MP3 player in any browser. Maybe at some time during the 90’s? I’m sure you could find an Adobe product that could solve the problem for you. Or the free and widely used Audacity program, come to think of it. You might want to give it a shot.

      Speaking of DOM hacking, I don’t watch any Flash-based advertising unless I want to. At the very least the advertisers could save themselves some money and write their ads in the ubiquitous HTML format, which is guaranteed to work in every single browser, period. This would be how Google made its fortune, in case you’re looking for a role model.

  3. Rick Choi

    I don’t think there will be any “killing & dying” scenario in the case of only video contents handling between HTML5 and Adobe Flash. Since HTML5 has more attractive features than just video contents handling in it, there shall be all the possible ways co-existing in the market – no single one winner. Who know? Adobe Flash keeps going with powerful features and various kinds of video formats, and HTML5 goes with open standard video formats (e.g. ogg) and embracing hybrid form. :)

  4. Advertising is one area that is often overlooked by proponents of HTML5. Today, all video ad servers and ad networks require deep integration with publisher’s video players. They require the ability to load 3rd party components, call 3rd party servers, parse and render XML, collect and pass data for targetting and tracking, render dynamic elements like overlays, and control the player itself (i.e. pause the content) while the ad is playing. Flash enables highly complex ad management plugins/components to be easily built and dynamically loaded into media players – and has therefore become the core of virtually all web-video advertising technology. Until HTML5 can match this type of rich contol/access, publishers who want to effectively monetize their content will not consider it a viable alternative.

    • Cailean Babcock

      This sounds like an ad for Adobe. I seriously wonder if Adobe has its employees trolling this page. All of the tools you have mentioned can easily be taken care of through any number of easy-to-use, well-documented scripting languages and free, turnkey open source projects.

      Not to mention that there are any number of high-profile companies (Google, for starters) whose single specialty is in delivering ready-made web advertisement to web developers. Flash doesn’t automatically deliver a roster of ready-made advertisers along with all of its other powerful features, does it?

      If you’re going to make fun of HTML5, you might as well make fun of every version of HTML since the inception of the web. These arguments comparing Flash to HTML don’t really make very much sense, since no matter what version of Flash you use, you’re going to ultimately have to embed it in an HTML page for delivery, anyway.

      • And what? Steve Jobs is paying you?

        Actionscript is well documented, Flex is free and You don’t ultimately have to embed anything in an HTML page at all.

  5. @Craig Baker – I don’t see it as “attempting to protect” Adobe as much as it’s calling attention to the fact that HTML5 is a bad “standard”. It is insufficiently complete to guarantee compatibility, and it is more focused on locking in the current browser/producer hierarchy than on building a foundation for true innovation. I predict that the top 200 “HTML 5” sites in the world will be evolutionary rather than revolutionary; they could just as easily have been coded with 2009-era (or 2006-era) tools than 2010+ ones.

    What HTML 5 does, as much as anything else, is build a technological “League of Nations”, which isn’t meant to really accomplish anything so much as its meant to preserve an outmoded power structure that otherwise would collapse under the weight of its own cruft. I only hope we can find a more peaceful, productive way to transition from HTML 5/4 to something that actually has a future.

    • Cailean Babcock

      What HTML5 does is provide an open, free platform to reproduce Flash functionality and finally allow content producers the ability to focus on delivering content in one or two formats across browsers rather than the 5 or so formats currently necessary to satisfy all users. It doesn’t need to be revolutionary, it needs to wrest the power of an important multimedia delivery platform away from the whims of a single, proprietary format dictated by a company that charges excessive amounts of money for bloated, buggy software.

      As for ad content, content producers and developers, including Google, have been doing just fine with simple HTML markup for many years before Flash became ubiquitous. Tell people that their development costs and target formats are going to be dramatically reduced and their lock-in to Adobe broken and I guarantee a lot of people are going to sit up and take notice (me, for one).

      This whole “focused on locking in the current browser/producer hierarchy than on building a foundation for true innovation” is not only a straw man, it’s barely coherent. Come to think of it, it might make better sense if you told me you were talking about Flash rather than HTML 5.

      • You are an idiot. Flash is free. You can make anything you like that will run and create Flash files for free. How many times does it have to be said before you idiots will listen?

        Oh and HTML5 nowhere near replicates the functionality of Flash – nowhere near. Again, you’re an idiot.

  6. From my own experience, Google’s HTML5 video implementation works fine, but it really seems not as fast as with Flash. And yes, what people are failing to understand is that Flash Platform enables far more than just “start/play/stop” with fancy buttons.

    HTML5 and open standards are great, but they’re far behind on features that Flash delivers. Also, the speed Flash Platform is evolving, is considerably greater than that of HTML5’s:

    I’m afraid Google is trying to pull a scheme to prep the crowd for their Chrome OS. We’ve already heard that Flash/Silverlight is off that platform, so it does make sense.

    • HTML5 is new and being an open standard, it won’t be long until people like me would start to chime in and develop with the technology. With a proprietary Flash, who could evolve it other than Adobe? So I’d put it like Adobe vs. “the rest of the world”.