YouTube talks Flash and HTML5

The folks at YouTube have put up an informative post about why, despite positive advances in what browsers support, “Adobe Flash provides the best platform for YouTube’s video distribution requirements.”

Of course, Flash is at death’s door, right?  I suppose you didn’t hear that ESPN just streamed the US-Algeria World Cup match via Flash to “the largest U.S. audience ever for a sports event on the web,” with 1.1 million unique viewers.  Through 14 days of World Cup coverage, 5 million viewers have watched the World Cup on and consumed more than 9.2 million total hours.  Somehow the Mac sites fail to notice these things.  (Actually, that few people notice is a good thing: billions of times a month, Flash just works.)

I’m sure someone will point out that Hulu will be streaming video to iPads without using Flash as the presentation layer, so now Flash is screwed, haw haw.  In that case, let me repeat what I said a few months ago:

John Gruber wrote the other day that “Hulu isn’t a Flash site, it’s a video site. Developers go where the users are.” Well sure, of course they do. Flash is a means to an end for Adobe, too, not the end unto itself.

The folks at Hulu, like those at YouTube, are pragmatists.  They’ll use whatever delivery mechanisms, presentation layers, etc. they need to reach the most eyeballs.  On desktops Hulu prefers Flash, for the same reasons YouTube cites.  (Even if more than 13% of the audience could play back H.264-format video on their desktops without using a plug-in, the browsers are lacking in content protection & other vital areas.)  On mobile devices, Flash Player’s support for H.264 (and later VP8) makes it easy to use an alternate player to display the same video files.

I’m not saying all this to rile people up.  I just get tired of all the uninformed rah-rah triumphalism out there, so I thought I’d help share some real-world perspectives.

33 thoughts on “YouTube talks Flash and HTML5

  1. Great post John – I’ve spent the best part of a week debunking Flash myths on a local tech forum in Australia and I must admit the diatribe that’s carried forth by Apple enthusiasts is at times pretty hard to take. One things for sure though, the comments Apple’s CEO made a few months back have certainly energised the debate, and even brought Flash (or the lack thereof) into the main stream media. I’m reading about it in a lot of places that would have otherwise not mentioned it; and they’re all questing what Apple’s motives are

    1. “…certainly energised the debate, and even brought Flash (or the lack thereof) into the main stream media. I’m reading about it in a lot of places that would have otherwise not mentioned it….”
      That’s a good point… Adobe is a much smaller company than its recent headlines would indicate. Seeing the CEOs of Motorola, Verizon, Google and Adobe together on video last week really brought that home.
      (Thanks for speaking up in your neighborhood, by the way… if it’s of consolation, the hype level is coming down from its peak now, as new device shipments trump any war of words.)

  2. We watch World Cup matches on ESPN3 at the office, but the flash player crashes 2 or 3 times per match. It’s a major pain in the ass.
    [That sucks, and I’m sorry to hear it. Flash crashes on me maybe a couple of times a month–about as much as Safari (maybe a bit less). –J.]
    Just because people are forced to see it within some container doesn’t mean it’s their preference. It all comes down to availability. Given a choice between Flash and h.264 stream I’d choose the latter.
    [Of course, Flash *is* an H.264 stream. Sorry, but it bugs me that people don’t keep the terminology straight, because it confuses distinctions like format vs. player. –J.]
    ESPN could have forced its users to install Octoshape Plugin and 99% of them would have complied without giving it any thought.
    As a long time reader of your blog, I just can’t seem to understand why you’re shilling for Flash with every chance you get. Isn’t that John Dowdells job?
    [It’s not “every chance [I] get.” I believe that video exploded online thanks primarily to Flash, and I’m tired of it taking undue lumps. There’s fair criticism, there’s fair hope for the greater prevalence of open standards, and then there’s just ideological fanboy ranting/hating. The latter is a real pain, especially as I’ve considered myself a huge Mac fan for the last couple of decades. –J.]

    1. Hi guys,
      I found so called world largest video vocabulary. If there is anybody who can give me an answer to my question, thx in advance. I would like to know would this be possible in HTML5?

  3. The extra attention this whole Flash vs HTML5 thing is getting has turned into a razor-sharp focus on video playback.
    It almost seems that video is all anyone cares about even though Flash will probably continue to be useful as an interactive/animation tool even if it loses its foothold as the dominant audio/video web player.
    I don’t think Flash is at death’s door. I’m weary of it not working well on any of my computers and I think the Flash app is horribly frustrating to work with (I mostly do animation in Flash). It’s just that one can do a lot of things like slideshows and sliders with Javascript that used to require Flash and do it right now sans HTML5. It feels like Flash peaked a few years ago and has become pigeonholed as a solution for video playback.

  4. The really annoying thing though is that Flash only announced support for VP8, not WebM. I was hoping they would support the whole WebM format so that I could Flash as a single fallback mechanism for HTML5 content. In fact, on the Adobe blog I commented on, they said there are no plans to support WebM, just the VP8 codec itself.
    Here I though Flash is supposed to support web multimedia without inconveniencing developers about these kind of things…

  5. @Conan
    “In fact, on the Adobe blog I commented on, they said there are no plans to support WebM, just the VP8 codec itself.
    Here I though Flash is supposed to support web multimedia without inconveniencing developers about these kind of things…”
    On the You Tube post linked to here it states
    “Adobe has also committed to support VP8, the video codec for WebM, in an upcoming Flash Player release.”

  6. I don’t know why Flash is so desperate to be just a video delivery platform or why they suddenly wanted to be a mobile application development environment when the iPhone took off, or before that they desperately wanted to be a Web 2.0 platform.
    Why don’t they instead focus on what Flash is good at which is multimedia instead of trying to force it into the flavour of the month.

  7. I’m not saying all this to rile people up. I just get tired of all the uninformed rah-rah triumphalism out there, so I thought I’d help share some real-world perspectives.

    Yes. You’re so tired of the rah-rah triumphalism and people being riled up that you wrote this post that keeps the fire on this nontroversy going.
    [Look around, John, at the profound ignorance, at all the wishful FUD. It’s a real problem when people make decisions based in ignorance, and it’s equally bad when people get bullied for trying to dispel that ignorance. –J.]
    I’m beginning to think that you, dowdell and the rest honestly like all this silliness, and get worried if it starts to die down.
    [Yes, countering FUD is silly; how dare I. I’m sure whenever people have made up a bunch of bullshit about Apple, you’ve just let it roll off your back (despite not working there). –J.]

    1. JohnW, I think there’s a lot of misinformation and ignorance out there.
      As a company or individuals, do you think we should (a) let those falsehoods propagate, or (b) combat that with the truth or occasional links to people discovering the obvious? (Like YouTube pointing out that while they support HTML5, it’s still a long way from the ubiquity or functionality of Flash).
      I don’t know of the magic wording that can appease some on (b). Some will always take offense because the truth or our world view collides with the fantasy of theirs. We (and our customers) have to work with the realities of today, not the fantasies of tomorrow, so it’s our job to point where the hype is colliding with reality. So it is nice for us, when we read and link moderate/pragmatic and fact filled posts like YouTube’s — which just restates the reality and combats the disinformation for us.
      Is it really fanning the fires of controversy to just link to other companies pragmatic statements of reality?
      Adobe is a large company with many teams and views. Most just want to create the best solutions for our customers: regardless of whether they need the full functionality of Flash or can live with the HTML5 subset to solve their problems. That’s why we have have multiple creative teams investigating at how they can add HTML5 to their products, knowing that it will soon be a standard and eventually all the issues/kinks around it will get worked out. While other teams/individuals are going to point out the superiority of Flash and continue to do their best to maintain their significant advantage. And everyone who values their customers, still wants to help them separate fact from hype. So of course we’re going to link to articles that support our views. That’s not “fanning the fires”, as much as it is being an advocate for some truth, balance and moderation.

  8. yeah yeah whatever…
    [What a joke. Did you even read that article? –J.]
    wow, you know your tech sucks when the porn industry abandons you.
    [If you had actually read beyond the headline, you’d know that *one guy* said that *someday* his company would stop relying on Flash Player, *if and when* the browsers get their act together and all support a common video format. In the meantime, he’ll run his business successfully via Flash. (In the meantime, unless he wants to either cut his viewership by 87% or double his storage and compression costs by streaming everything as Ogg in parallel to H.264, he’ll keep using Flash Player.) But hey, far be it from me to suggest that pragmatism & the real world get in the way of ideology. –J.]

  9. There was an article yesterday about pr0n sites wanting to move away from Flash, as well as one about a guy who re-created all the iPhone app icons completely in css3.
    [Yeah, that article about the pornographer was funny: Here you’ve got some shady guy saying that *someday* he might change the markup on his sites to use a different player, and somehow that’s newsworthy. And it’s funnier still that some in the Mac press are so in need of validation of their (Apple-chosen) position that they tread this as an interesting development (or a development at all). –J.]
    If Adobe is truly out to serve it’s customers, and a growing portion of them want to move away from using Flash, why does Adobe keep trying to force it on everyone?
    [Jesus… who is forcing anything on anyone? It’s not Adobe. As I pointed out in my post, Adobe supports (and has long supported) common standards like H.264. That makes it *EASIER* for companies like YouTube and Hulu to use technologies other than Flash to stream & display video content. If the Flash team wanted to force anything, or to hold back standards, they’d have insisted on locking up video in proprietary codecs, and they wouldn’t be eager to do new work to support VP8. –J.]
    It certainly casts doubt on their previous public statements on the matter.
    [No, it casts doubt on others’ open-mindedness & reading comprehension. –J.]

  10. John, I’m a fan (was braggin’ on you to Bob Regan the other day in an AEL interview) and I know how easy it is to misspeak — especially via a blog (I do it all the time) but I’ve gotta point out that lines like, “Somehow the Mac sites fail to notice these things” seems kinda, well, an oversimplified, stereotypical, us v them, you’re either with us or against us and ALL Mac sites are against us POV.
    [I’m not trying to phrase things as us-and-them. But when John Gruber thinks it’s more relevant to his readership to point out the lack of a 64-bit Flash Player for *Linux* than to mention a new, optimized, rewritten-in-Cocoa Mac Flash Player, I get pissed off. It’s such weak sauce. –J.]
    I’m a kook. I like Adobe AND Apple. Neither is perfect, but dang they both provide cool tools that I use every day.
    Aw, heck. If the words up there don’t work, how about the following…
    Perhaps to fill the vacuum, that nature does abhor
    The story chose this vessel, to be its metaphor
    Dueling with the either-or, in land of right or wrong
    I, gray matters of the heart, cross common censor’s song
    Rhythm technicolors in, the lines that drew this hint
    Rock and roll with punches thrown, anger isn’t it

  11. John:
    I’m also over all the rah-rah noise out there. The problem is that I see it mostly coming from Adobe employees. I use products from Apple and Adobe, so it’s not an either/or issue for me.
    What I don’t get is why Adobe employees feel the needs to continue on this warpath.
    [Warpath? –J.]
    Apple made a decision for its business and that’s it.
    [Where exactly do you see me questioning that? I didn’t even question Apple’s decision to pull the rug out from under developers by killing off the Carbon 64 support they’d previously announced. Instead I simply said, “It’s their business, their OS to run as they see fit, and it’s my job to explain the real-world consequences.” –J.]
    The real world perspective is that it’s time to move away from posts like this one and just do business. You provide a tool to create solutions. Tell us what you do well without resorting to denigrating HTML5, Apple, or anyone else.
    [Denigrating? Are you *serious*? Simply pointing out that, contrary to a bunch of hype, competing technologies are not there yet is “denigrating”? For what it’s worth, I hope the browser makers continue to make progress, as they surely will. Just noting that, in the eyes of their most demanding customers, they haven’t yet gotten there isn’t defamation; it’s honest, healthy criticism. (Which jumping on me isn’t.) –J.]
    Quite honestly, it makes me feel sad for Adobe that they can’t seem to get over it and move ahead.
    [Oh, come *on*… Woe be he who points out the emperor’s new G-string. –J.]

    1. Actually, your spammy-looking fake address had landed your comments in the moderation queue. –J.

  12. Ok John, I agree with you…Flash are not at the death’s door… so does Internet Explorer…But, this does not mean that it is the best in its segment…
    [You’re of course welcome to your opinion; it’s just that the people who are streaming billions of videos per month disagree. –J.]
    so does flash…
    HTML5 is all ..
    No more plugins …
    As ADOBE leads the image editing ..
    Let others be leaders in others segments …
    what a shame ADOBE…
    [It’s a shame not to roll over and die, just giving away one’s business to others? Please tell that to Apple, Google, Microsoft, and every other successful company. –J.]

  13. The amount of misinformation out there is colossal. I hope more companies are willing to post about this subject the way YouTube has.
    [They’ll be reticent when faced with a pile-on by the ignorant & insecure. That’s too bad. I predict that most actual businesses will just vote with their feet, leveraging whatever combination of technologies (Flash and/or otherwise) best enable them to get their jobs done. –J.]
    However, I think their post is also a strategic move by Google. YouTube could write that post at any time; instead of posting it as an immediate response to Apple, however, they waited until Apple’s latest products were released and subjected to criticism before posting it.
    This week is a great time for someone to openly disagree with Apple on something. Google timed this post, in my opinion.

    1. Rezmason, regarding Google using this post as a response to Apple products, notice it was posted on the YouTube API blog, read by developers who use YouTube as a video service. I think YouTube have been getting requests from developers about when they will be switching to HTML5. As any such switch would effect however they use YouTube. Meanwhile, YouTube will continue to work fine on Apple iOS devices via Google’s YouTube app.
      In the end, I think Google would rather have YouTube use the HTML5 video tag, but they are also a business and realize HTML5 video doesn’t meet all of their technical needs right now. If any of the tech blogs who push the whole HTML5 video versus Flash video, had bothered to do any research on the topic, I imagine they would have come to a similar conclusion.

  14. ho do you know when john is telling bullshit?
    when his lips move!
    he is payed by adobe what do you guys expect?
    the truth? good joke…!
    [What a thoughtful parody of an actual response. Thanks for the pseudonymous time-wasting, big man. –J.]

  15. John,
    Never argue with an idiot, they drag you down to their level and beat you up with expierence.

  16. John, I’m sorry that you have to waste your time responding to the ludicrous accusations of some of these people. It has to be painful! But there are many of us out here who understand and respect why you continue to do what you do with this blog. I don’t consider defending your business/product “fanning the flames”. It’s important for you to continue to do so.
    I have already been approached and questioned by many clients and associates about the “death of Flash”. This misinformation has people who are unfamiliar with the finer points of the argument running for the exits. A friend who recently completed classes in web design using CS4 expressed that his time spent learning Flash was a waste. I had to explain to him that Flash wasn’t going anywhere and that he should stay the course. This manner of confusion is propagated by the kinds of malicious distortions in some of the above comments.
    Keep up the good work and don’t let them wear you down. ;^)

  17. Thanks for posts like this John. As there’s a lot of FUD about the whole Flash video versus HTML5 video. Some have commented that this is an attack on HTML5, but it’s really just pointing out the technical differences between two and why HTML5 video still has a very long way to go before it provides all the video functionality found in Flash Player 10.1.
    Also while Hulu are providing a way for iPad users to view their content I’ve yet to see confirmation if it will be via website or iOS app? That said Hulu recently had similar comments that YouTube had, in which HTML5 currently doesn’t meet their business needs.
    Here’s a link and quote from that blog post:
    “We continue to monitor developments on HTML5, but as of now it doesn’t yet meet all of our customers’ needs. Our player doesn’t just simply stream video, it must also secure the content, handle reporting for our advertisers, render the video using a high performance codec to ensure premium visual quality, communicate back with the server to determine how long to buffer and what bitrate to stream, and dozens of other things that aren’t necessarily visible to the end user. Not all video sites have these needs, but for our business these are all important and often contractual requirements.”

  18. John,
    Thank you so much for this excellent post. I love Apple and Adobe. I have even worked for Apple in the past. Now I teach Adobe software on Macs at the college level.
    I have been shocked by all the ignorance prevalent about Flash encouraged by Steve’s recent anti-Flash rant… and I love Steve too 🙂 Many posts on this issue seem to be by people who are unaware of what Flash is today and write about Flash as it was many years ago…. such as implying that Flash does not do H.264. C’mon I believe Flash started supporting that around 2007. Well, I could go on and on about all the nonsense I have read. It is nice to see some sanity on this issue.
    I enjoy your blog and appreciate your opinions.

  19. Enough with all the Flash bragging. We know Flash is awesome, even if Apple doesn’t.
    [Actually people seem to have gone brain-dead when it comes to the practicality of Flash. See Greg’s comment in this thread about someone concluding that having learned Flash was a big waste of time. And yesterday on Twitter someone from Chopping Block was talking about “Some final nails in the coffin of FLASH” (this being some Canvas tag demos that recreate 10-year-old SWFs). It’s absolutely useful and important to remind people of the reality we live (and they get paid) in. –J.]
    But I don’t want to read a blog that isn’t directed towards the reader, but instead towards a corporation you’re no longer in cahoots with.
    [How is my post directed at Apple? Did I even mention Apple? My post is directed at readers who are tasked with making practical decisions. (On that note, I’d advise people to encode video as H.264 so that it can play on all desktops via Flash Player (or the HTML5 Video tag) and on mobile devices. I’m going hoarse saying that Flash is a means to an end, not an end unto itself.) –J.]

  20. “Some final nails in the coffin of FLASH” (this being some Canvas tag demos that recreate 10-year-old SWFs).
    HAHA! Yes, I’m so tired of hearing how Canvas is going make Flash obsolete! Do you really believe that you can recreate the type of complex content that is on SO many motion picture websites (Iron Man, Toy Story to name a few of thousands of those type of sites developed in Flash) with html5? Maybe in 5 years. Maybe. Probably not. Again, let’s cease with the absolutes and ignorance. html5 WILL be great for web publishing. We all look forward to it. But let’s get real. There will always be the need to do the kind of presentation and complex interactivity for specific types of web publishing that Flash will be better at. Why is that so hard to admit? Let’s focus the discussion on how we can get the best out of both technologies.

  21. In response to John N… Yes, I realize it’s nice to hear stats about how well Flash is really doing, and the intentions of it for the future. But as a reader of your blog, I am already on-board with Flash — and am often aware of it’s abilities and advantages. It just seems that ever since Apple (and in-turn the rest of the world, it seems) started dissing Flash, every chance you get to post a blog that sticks one to them, you’ll take it.
    [Maybe, but so be it. Hopefully you can easily avert your eyes from future posts in this realm if you don’t find them interesting or relevant. –J.]
    Oh, and yes, you didn’t mention Apple…but I think I read “Mac” in there once. 😉
    [Yes, but “Mac sites” != “Apple,” despite some folks’ wishful beliefs otherwise. –J.]

  22. All this talk of pr0n and Flashing is likely to lead to some disappointed folks who end up here after searching for something else…
    [Yes, but something tells me they won’t have far to search! –J.]

  23. The complaints that you’re talking too much about Flash are just more attempts by Flash-haters to kill off a technology that remains crucial to the web’s move into the mainstream.
    They come from “web developers” who don’t know AS3 and who are afraid they don’t have what it takes to learn it – or are just too lazy.
    Keep up your brave stance in the face of these proponents of the Least Common Denominator.

  24. The folks at YouTube have put up an informative post about why, despite positive advances in what browsers support, “Adobe Flash provides the best platform for YouTube’s video distribution requirements.”
    By ‘folks at YouTube’ you really mean Google, right? ‘Nuff said at this time (the sudden rush to put Flash into Chrome has been amusing to watch).

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