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Sorry, HTML5 Crowd, Flash Ain’t Dead Yet

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Microsoft (s MSFT) launched a site dubbed the MSN Video Player in the U.K. Thursday that aims to be something of a U.K. version of Hulu, featuring TV shows like Peep Show, League of Gentlemen and Doctor Who. It’s pretty standard fare, as far as British online TV content is concerned. In fact, the recently-launched Seesaw platform offers an almost identical catalog. However, there’s one feature worth noting: MSN Video Player uses Microsoft Silverlight to stream video if possible, but it defaults to a Flash-based player for users without Silverlight.

That’s an important departure from Microsoft’s earlier habit of forcing users to download Silverlight to access any content at all, and it acknowledges that Silverlight is still far from being as omnipresent as Adobe’s (s ADBE) Flash.

MSN Video Player isn’t the only site that has adopted such a dual strategy for Silverlight and Flash, and Adobe has been making inroads with content providers previously signed up with Move Networks as well. YouTube (s GOOG) and some other sites have recently been experimenting with HTML5, and Apple’s decision to ship the iPad without Flash has gotten some people to wonder whether a big switch to HTML5 and H.264 is on the horizon. But for the time being, it looks like Adobe is stronger than ever.

Visit the MSN Video Player site without Silverlight installed on your machine, and you’d barely notice a difference to other Flash-based platforms. Videos start in Flash without any hiccup, or warning message for that matter, and playback in full-screen mode isn’t an issue either.  Granted, the site does feature a small button labeled “MSN Video Player works best with Silverlight” somewhere in its upper left corner, but honestly, it’s barely noticeable, and there’s no explanation as to how installing it will improve the experience.

The MSN Video Player site isn’t alone with offering Flash as a substitute for Silverlight. March Madness On Demand, a CBS-affiliated (s CBS) site that is expected to serve tons of live streams as the NCAA Men’s College Basketball Tournament goes underway starting this Sunday, also offers a Flash stream, albeit with a lower bit rate than their Silverlight player is going to offer. One reason for CBS’s reluctance to go all out with Silverlight could be that NBC (s GE) has been taking a beating for forcing users to install Silverlight ever since the 2008 Olympics.

Biut what about HTML5? Google rolled out a test of the standards-based way of playing video straight in your browser without any plug-in in January, and Wikipedia is gearing up for a major HTML5 video roll-out across its site as well. However, differences about the codec used in various implementations have delayed the adoption of HTML5, and advertisers haven’t signed on to the format yet either, making it unlikely that it will be chosen as a default solution by any of the big commercial platforms any time soon.

Flash, meanwhile, continues to make inroads. This week, ESPN announced that it is dumping Move Networks for MLB Advanced Media, a switch that includes transitioning from Move’s video plug-in to Flash. ESPN (s DIS) isn’t alone in abandoning Move for Flash — left the erstwhile high-flying start-up in January for Flash delivered by Brightcove, and (s DIS) is reportedly working on a similar transition.

The fact Move lost all these high-profile customers may have a lot to do with issues related to pricing and the overall direction of the company; the fact however that those customers went right back to Flash, and not to Silverlight, should give HTML5 supporters pause. It was easy for the FSF to get headlines when it recently suggested killing Flash. Following through with that goal could prove to be much harder.

Image courtesy of Flickr user Cameron  Russell.

Related content on GigaOM Pro: What Does the Future Hold For Browsers? (subscription required)

25 Responses to “Sorry, HTML5 Crowd, Flash Ain’t Dead Yet”

  1. Chotpy

    Sorry to be the spelling Nazi.

    “Biut what about HTML5?”

    Great article. HTML5 may not be compatible with all browsers yet, but it sure seems like it will make a lot of things easier.

  2. Joseph P. Hillenburg

    It appears that this switch makes more sense in the context of new information. It’s not that the firms switching to Brightcove did so because of Brightcove’s (then-unannounced) switch to HTML5, which is in anticipation of the iPad.

  3. Your article seems to be saying that Flash will survive because yet another of Microsoft’s slap-dash failing initiatives to try and control the universe, Silverlight, is failing and Flash is their back up. Respectfully, that’s a lousy argument. It’s like saying the Palm Pre will live forever because everyone doesn’t get an Android phone. Meh.

    You’re correct, however. Flash is far from dead. However, like Adobe’s far more capable Director, it is on it’s last legs in its current form. Even Adobe acknowledges this. In its next version the Flash application will not only produce products in the flash format, but also in formats that will run on the iPhone and the iPad. My guess, therefore, is that Adobe will eventually merge Flash and Director into a single application that will be used for application creation and have a list of formats in which they can be saved, much as Photoshop has a list of format into which images can be saved.

    Images saved in the native Photoshop format are fine, but how many times do you see them on the internet? The Photoshop application is far more valuable than the Photoshop format. The same will become true of Flash as people see the value of speed, security, and quality through the elimination of add-on kludges.

  4. bullshit HTML5 standard . No one want html5. At least end user do not care whether its a html5 standard or flash or silverlight or anything else. They need to have a better experience which flash is providing and for the developers Flash provides rich IDE like Flash professinal and Flex. Where is such IDE for html5 for animation and other stuff. HTML5 standard my ass ….

  5. gonzo90017

    Why would NBC be taking a beating for having people install silverlight? You also have to install Flash so why are people complaining?

    When switched from Move Networks to Flash I immediately noticed a significant drop in quality. And this is on my 27″ LCD. From 10′ away. But I thought it was just me. It wasn’t until I came here some weeks ago that I read that Fox had switched to Flash. It’s sad that ABC and ESPN will be switching also.

  6. @tricknyc to clarify and answer your question…

    First, Flash is NOT as “standard”, it’s a proprietary plugin. HTML 5 is a standard. There also really isn’t any long-term mixing or combining of the two either, that would be extremely redundant and without real advantage.

    That being said, in the short term while this transition is happening developers absolutely will have to support both. HTML 5 actually has this built in quite nicely where it naturally degrades back to something older browsers can recognize if it needs too.

    But you’re right, Flash is about as dominant as any proprietary technology can be on the web. As with any transition, HTML 5 definitely won’t replace it overnight and Flash will stick around for a while longer. In the mean time, we developers have to do what we do and juggle a few technologies in order to facilitate the change over.

    However, I do think that the transition to HTML 5 will be a lot faster than similar transitions have been in the past. HTML 5 has enough clear advantages to both developers and end-users though that in the end, HTML 5 will phase out Flash as it is now. I have no doubt.

    That being said, I also don’t believe Adobe is going to let their product die without a fight. I honestly would be surprised if Adobe puts a new spin on Flash and adopts their business model in a way to keep it relevant as the web changes and moves towards HTML 5.

    But the web is headed in a direction where the core purpose for the Flash product that we all currently know and love is actually unnecessary. Will Adobe re-invent Flash and give it new life? Who knows.

    Again though, HTML 5 wasn’t meant to be a “Flash Killer”. It’s much bigger and more important than that. HTML 5 is a booster shot in the arm of the internet that will finally, for the first time ever, standardize the web, how browsers view and interact with content, and at the same time provide an easier, license free way to bring a lot of the rich content we expect to see on the web to the end-user.

    The impact on Flash as a product is just collateral damage, but it’s necessary. This lack of standardization has been holding back progress for a while and is way over due.

    • RickDres

      First, Flash is the closest thing to “standard” that exists on the web. Second, HTML 5 is not a standard, it is a specification which leaves it up to browser manufacturers to make into a standard. This is usually where it fails :)

    • You can do wonders with ultra light flash plugin which you can never imagine doing it in HTML5. You can build multi-user complex games in flash, you can create advance rich internet apps. From chat applications to creative UX applications to amazing games to youtube to millions of web apps today dependent on flash technology. Flash is the only technology that gives you same user experience on every browser. Flash is already on almost every browser, you can’t survive without it. These are only buzzes and rumors created by rival adobe companies for its going down. If HTML5 is going to replace anything at all then it’s going to be the least share stuff like javaFX and silverlight.

  7. tricknyc

    @brandon @michael The fact point is that flash isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. So ipad users will be left in the cold for god knows how long.

    So the question is – would you rather have a platform that supports both standards? or just one?

    • Do I understand why Apple is leaving Flash off iPad? Yes. Would I prefer it if Flash and iPad/iPhone worked well together? Perhaps. Do I miss Flash on the iPhone? Not really. Will Flash keep me from buying an iPad? Not at all.

      Truth be told I am much more often annoyed by Flash on the web than delighted by it.

  8. Great! Just what I needed! Yet another Flash vs. HTML 5 article that only talks about video. HTML 5 might not be as good as Flash with respect to web video do the codec issues, but for god’s sake people… it does everything else that Flash does quite magically. Have you even seen what you can do with it natively… with no plugins? Or do you just keep zeroing in on that video BS?

    Everyone is focusing on the video issue like their OCD. Stop. That’s only about 2% of what HTML 5 means for the web.

    HTML 5 is coming whether Adobe and the rest of the world is ready for it or not. Unlike the early days of the internet, today’s web is a first class entertainment/communication medium and it has the ability to assert changes, but it still lacks standards and carries over the legacy need for browser plugins like Flash.

    HTML 5 was built to solve that.

    The push for HTML 5 is an attempt to force the web and browsers to standardize and it’s absolutely going to happen. All major modern browsers support it, the rest are intentionally being left in the dust. In the near future, if you want to enjoy the latest and the greatest the web has to offer you’re going to have to be HTML 5 compatible.

    Yes… we might not have the video codec issues worked out yet… but again, the only thing that needs to happen there is standardization. Stay tuned.

      • I definitely understand and picked up on that. :)

        It’s a good write-up about video on the web, but its a bad write-up about HTML 5 vs. Flash which is what the somewhat misleading title implies.

        It just annoys me to no end that no one can seam to mentally separate the future of video on the web from HTML 5. The two have little to do with each other and HTML 5 both encompasses so much more.

    • RickDres

      There are many flaws in your argument. You claim that HTML 5 can do EVERYTHING that flash does quite magically. Really? That is a pretty bold statement. Your forgetting that Flash is the closest thing to a standard the web has ever experienced. This is a fact. No other web technology can come close to serving the same user experience regardless of browser, version etc.. Sure, like anything, there have been hiccups along the way, but overall I am quite confident that my flash apps look and function the same in most browsers.

      HTML 5, as promising as it sounds(and I am not against it), in and of itself is merely a specification left up to browser developers to support. What makes you think that they will support it the same way consistently in the future? Please don’t fall victim to short term memory in regards to browser development and shortcomings. I will admit things have gotten more consistent with browsers, but they are far from perfect and don’t forget we will have to support IE7 for many years. This is a big issue. Not to mention all the IE bs with things such as cleartype, which affect jquery aesthetics among other things. All in all there are many problems web designers must face today and this pipe dream that HTML 5 will cure all of it is something not in the cards right now. Why? because of the user base. Many people still use old browsers.

      The push to standardize you claim will “absolutely happen” is something browser developers have been claiming for years. I’ll believe it when it actually happens. Sorry to be such a cynic, but we have only past track records to go by. I am sure I am not the only one who feels this way.

      Last, I would suggest you look at some of the very best Flash examples out there (, and try to create the same exact thing with HTML5. You said it could be done magically, well let’s see some magic. Also, whatever you create needs to work and look the same in a multitude of browsers. When you are done, please post a link and if you have succeeded, I will apologize and admit defeat.


    • I thought it was the other way around. Usually HTML5 defenders only talk about video, while Flash is so much more than video. I have nothing against HTML5 I just strongly believe that Flash i no where near dead. And I’m praying that Apple allows it at least on the iPad (cold day in hell, iTunes store would lose too much $)….oh well I did buy an iPad but, I really can’t wait for the HP Slate.

  9. Maybe I’m just a little strange, but I read the continuous switching from platform to platform as an indication that none of the current video solutions are strong enough to hold a user base. If Flash was as strong as you imply it is I would imagine that talk of it’s replacement as the de facto video standard would seem ridiculous. The very existence of this post and the countless others like it is proof that Flash is vulnerable and that vulnerability is the primary force driving HTML5’s march toward becoming a widely implemented standard. Will it happen today? No. Flash is still alive and still has the largest pile of chips at the table. But if anyone is worried I would think it’s Adobe – they have a lot of revenue at stake. “HTML5 supporters” don’t really have anything at risk – they don’t have to meet shareholder expectations, they have no revenue streams to protect, the have no product in danger – they don’t have to meet quarterly goals – they have absolutely zero imperatives other than an idea that how we work on the web can be made better. THAT should give Adobe pause.

  10. I can’t see Flash going anywhere soon. I’m uncomfortable with Apple’s decision. I recognize the bad blood between Apple and Google, but I don’t believe the consumer base should be held hostage for it. HTML5 is not ready. And when it is ready, there’s going to be a long haul to unseat Adobe Flash because of the platform’s ubiquity.

    Assuming Flash is dead because Steve Jobs says so is a bit foolish and I can see we’re going to be casualties of another long bun fight between rivals.

    It’s becoming tiresome.


  11. Tap Dances on Grave

    The fact Move lost all these high-profile customers may have a lot to do with issues related to pricing and the overall direction of the company; the fact however that those customers went right back to Flash, and not to Silverlight, should give HTML5 supporters pause

    Huh, what? HTML5 isn’t even close to being a full standard across browsers. Bloggers seriously – pause and look at the reality. For media companies they need security, advertising and analytics all of which is sorely lacking in the existing HTML5 implementation.

    Move Networks lost all of their high profile customers because the company has totally changed direction to become an over the top cable provider, according to the wall street journal. Good riddance IMO, the world doesn’t need yet another video plugin for watching video.