How Digital Publishers Can Leverage the Use of HTML 5 Video

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May 19, 2014

May 2014 Issue

Article ImageWhat child hasn't become immersed in a picture book, fervently wishing the characters could come to life? In the past, a child sitting on the floor with a book, talking to the characters and imagining that they had come to life might have been considered fanciful, but the connection with imaginary characters is a rite of childhood. It's a fantasy that has been conveyed through movies such as 1994's The Pagemaster, starring Macaulay Culkin. Today, thanks to HTML5, these fantasies have become reality, literally making it possible for the characters and scenes in books-ranging from children's stories to business tomes and textbooks--to emerge from the "page" and spring to life in full color, image, movement, and sound.


All online video content must be viewed through a player, says Ryan Means, technology director with Phenomblue, a full-service brand experience agency based in Los Angeles and Omaha, Neb. In the past, that player was Flash. Now, with HTML5, the player is part of the browser, which means that users do not need to download and install a plug-in, such as Flash, to view the video.

With the proliferation of mobile devices such as tablets and smartphones, developers increasingly needed technology that allowed them to provide video to users across multiple devices. HTML5 provides this ability.

Before HTML5, says Anderson, web browsers required third-party plug-ins, such as Flash, to display video. As mobile devices and tablets emerged and became increasingly adopted, developers wanted a less power-consuming option for displaying video across multiple screens and platforms. "With Apple famously refusing to incorporate Flash into iOS, HTML5 emerged as the standard in cross-platform media," says Anderson.

The ability to reach viewers on any screen they may be using-from traditional desktops, to laptops, to tablets and smartphones-is paramount. HTML5 provides the ability to watch video on tablets and smartphones-without it, this would not be possible. Considering that mobile video consumption has grown 133% year-over-year, according to a study by Ooyala, a digital video provider, content providers simply can't afford to ignore this trend. Whether delivering ads or augmenting content, HTML5 fuels the engine that makes online video consumption accessible and seamless.

"HTML5 is really about creating intelligent standards across browsers so that content of all kinds can be passed in a more transparent format and so that the code has more understanding of the content instead of it being a black box," says Caleb Hanson, product lead at Rapt Media in Boulder, Colo. The upside is obvious, he says, but there are some drawbacks.


The upside of HTML5, says Hanson, is that "sites can better understand the content they're serving and thereby the users who are consuming it. They can tailor the experience for devices, like native playback on mobile, user preferences such as language, or cater to those with disabilities."

The advantages of HTML5 video include cost savings, availability of developers, real-time updates and distribution control, and flexible advertising-ads built in HTML5 will display across devices seamlessly. Unlike HTML4, HTML5 is compatible with almost all devices and browsers and is universal for all media players. It allows content providers to make their pages interactive for tablets and mobile devices without have to actually create a video.

There are, of course, some drawbacks. The technology is still new, meaning that results are still uncertain and experiences with HTML5 may provide less "rich" experiences than with native ads, for instance. And although HTML5 is compatible with almost all browsers, it is not yet supported by all browsers.

A big downside, says Hanson, is that "there isn't one steel-fisted authority who ensures that all browsers are implementing the standards or implementing them consistently. This is a growing-pains problem and has already gotten way better in the last year or two, and we will continue to converge on a universally agreed upon way of doing things. The days of pages blindly pulling in opaque content, like Flash, are drawing to a close."

HTML5 has gained traction sooner than it might have otherwise and possibly too soon, says Means, because of Apple's resistance to allow plug-ins such as Flash into its Safari browser. "There are some issues with HTML5 video in that, while there is a standard, it has not been fully approved by the W3C [World Wide Web Consortium], so each of the browser manufacturers have taken liberties to require different video encoders and include different functional features," says Means. "As digital publishers, we have to prepare a video in multiple formats to support every browser and, in many cases, in different sizes and bitrates to support fast and slow connections. There's also a lot of talk about how to finish the digital rights management (DRM) specification for HTML5 video." The problem here, notes Means, affects companies such as Netflix and keeps them from using HTML5 video. Why? "As with HTML5 video, there's currently no way to prevent a user from copying a video as it streams," he points out.

"Unfortunately, HTML5 isn't yet the one-stop shop for web video that it hopefully will become," says Anderson. "It does remove the need for third-party plug-ins like Flash, but due to its recent emergence, the rest of the web has yet to catch up." And he adds the following caveat: "While HTML5 code may be cleaner, easier to develop with and embed directly into webpages, not all browsers can read HTML5." Consequently, users with outdated browsers won't be able to view HTML5 media.

"Considering not every user on the web is an early adopter, we still need Flash to deliver a seamless video experience on all screens," says Anderson. While HTML5 is a must, Anderson notes that Flash is still a necessary evil to allow content providers to reach the largest possible audience.

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