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YouTube Backs Flash Over HTML5 Video — for Now

YouTube has been at the forefront of developing HTML5 video solutions, and was even one of the first publishers to introduce an HTML5-compatible video player. The site has also worked to push open standards by incorporating support for parent Google’s (s GOOG) new WebM video format, which can be used on YouTube in certain supporting early browser builds.

So it comes as a bit of a surprise to see software engineer John Harding outlining on the YouTube API blog yesterday many of the reasons why YouTube will continue to use Flash for the majority of its video delivery, despite the emergence of the HTML5 video tag.

For most who have been following the debate between Flash and HTML5 video, the reasons are nothing new; among other things, Harding cited the lack of a standard video format for HTML5, less-than-robust streaming technologies, a dearth of content protection and problems with creating embeddable and full-screen video.

Google is trying to solve the problem of a standard video format for HTML5 with the release of WebM and its open-source VP8 codec. By offering an open alternative to H.264, which Mozilla and Opera refuse to support in their browsers, Google hopes to overcome a divide between the open source community and Microsoft (s MSFT) and Apple (s AAPL), which support H.264 encoding in their Internet Explorer and Safari browsers, respectively. But for now, at least, it seems like that divide remains, with Mozilla and Opera supporting WebM but Microsoft and Apple holding off.

For some other issues — for example, content protection and advanced streaming — the solutions aren’t quite as near at hand. It’s difficult to see a standard for adaptive bitrate streaming developing around HTML5 video in a short period of time, but that’s one of the key selling points for the latest version of Flash. And content protection will continue to be an issue for as long as content owners demand YouTube ensure that their assets use secure streaming technologies.

For its part, YouTube isn’t alone; Hulu VP of product Eugene Wei wrote in a blog post that it won’t be supporting the HTML5 video tag anytime soon, saying that it lacks maturity in reporting, advertising and content security. And Netflix cloud architect Adrian Cockcroft cited content security as one reason the DVD rental firm’s Watch Instantly service won’t be adopting HTML5 video in the near future.

Related content on GigaOM Pro: Why Porn and the iPad Are Key for HTML5 (subscription required)

9 Responses to “YouTube Backs Flash Over HTML5 Video — for Now”

  1. Flash is a superior video player. the Flash player has been developed and optimized for years. The HTML5 one is crude.

    I want something which works better even if it’s proprietary. When the HTML 5 gets reliable and optimized, users will switch. Users in general don’t know or care if a player is proprietary or standard. All this talk about Flash vs HTML5 concerns web designers, not your average web user.

  2. The title of this post seems to indicate YouTube have announced they will be dropping Flash at some point in the future. In fact, YouTube’s post lists the many reasons why they are continuing to use Flash over HTML5 and at no point mentions that they are planning to drop Flash.

    But then I guess ‘death of Flash imminent’ sounds more interesting than ‘Flash not going away for foreseeable future’.

  3. Narayanan

    The timing of this announcement on the heels of Flash-independent HuluPlus and Farmville for iOS can be only be construed as Google’s indirect way of trying to keep the Flash vs HTML5 alive.

  4. Thanks for the news. It does come as a surprise. I opted for the HTML5 view on YouTube but ended up turning it off because it prevented me from composing blog posts on Blogger! I couldn’t scroll down to the bottom of my screen and I was finally able to determine that the HTML5 was causing the problem. I’m sure other Blogger users encountered the same issue.