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Delivering on the Promise of HTML5 Video

HTML5-logo.svgEarlier this month the Web standards body, W3C, announced the first draft of the Encrypted Media Extensions (EME) specification, which will allow content providers to add content protection to HTML5 videos for the first time. While EME will not handle the encryption process or Digital Rights Management (DRM) system, it will provide a standard for third-party plug-ins to support DRM in the web browser. The news elicited a mixed response from web platform commentators but there is no doubting its significance for the digital TV community.
Right now, the appetite for HTML5 video is strong, as a platform for a consistent, cross-device viewing experience. Developed with the new breed of mobile and OTT-capable devices in mind, HTML5 makes it possible, in theory, to standardise playback on any device, via the browser, and eliminates the need for plug-ins to create rich video playback experiences.
While ideal for basic video playback, HTML5 has a way to go before it becomes a fully-fledged solution for the most demanding use cases of online video delivery. In the interim, workaround tools, and online video platforms have emerged to help content producers and developers deliver on the multi-platform promise.
Historically, support for multiple platforms meant delivering a basic experience for a limited number of platforms, and supporting multiple codecs like H.264 and WebM (for browsers that did not ship with H.264).Today, the already complex HTML5 platform landscape of Apple, Microsoft, Google and Mozilla has been further complicated by other entrants, including Amazon and Sony (PlayStation) and makers of Smart TVs and Set-top boxes. Across all of these platforms, differences in implementations are emerging based on entrenched platform interests and device limitations.
Content protection and adaptive streaming are incredibly important to the digital TV community, but are two areas in which browser vendors have had difficulty in standardising around a single solution. While almost all contemporary online web platforms support HTML5, content providers are still typically choosing other options when DRM or adaptive streaming is required: Flash for desktop applications, and native apps for mobile devices.
Outside of premium DRM content, sophisticated, open source player libraries and platforms have helped streamline the process of online HTML5 and native video delivery. Modern video platforms work across “native”, HTML5 and Flash. For example, a single ad tag campaign from Google DART for Publishers (DFP) configured in a platform “player” can consolidate ad delivery across desktop Flash and HTML5, mobile HTML5, native iOS and native Android.
For multi-platform video, choosing a player that supports HTML5, Flash and increasingly native delivery, is important in order to provide ultimate flexibility. Consider the breadth of plug-ins the player supports, how well documented those features are, and how easily they can be integrated into the player.
Speed of loading is very important and fast HTML5 players are also helping push adoption. A recent study showed that many viewers begin abandoning videos if they don’t load within two seconds. There are many tricks to building a fast player that performs quickly, but it’s important to choose one that performs not only in benchmarks, but also in ‘real-world’ pages, where lots of other resources are competing to be loaded.
A player should also offer full integration with all the major ad networks and analytics providers in order to maintain a high level of flexibility and choice. How flexible the player is in terms of enabling you to customise the experience is also an important factor.  A library that supports easy customisation and skinning is critical if you are to succeed in meeting your brand and web presence goals.
Finally, it’s important to choose a player library that helps you negotiate the complex set of different HTML5 platforms. For example, you need to be free to choose between native or HTML-based controls for playback on iOS, and between Flash and HTML5 on a per platform basis (e.g. for Windows 8 and Android). It’s important that the library is closely integrated with a platform so that it can leverage all the back-end features that can help make the cross-platform experience work better, like creating video flavours for each device, and providing access to metadata management tools.
By 2014, we should see Flash fallbacks decrease in relevance as content producers can lead with HTML5 while still supporting those important business goals of high quality video delivery and branding. This is predicated on the imminent arrival of a number of new technologies and standards that will boost the appeal of HTML5. DRM for HTML5 video is one, but another major enhancement due out soon is the MediaStream API, which will enable improved live video event broadcast support and HTML5 as well as robust adaptive streaming.
In conclusion, HTML5 video is maturing quickly, overcoming some of its traditional challenges and should finally deliver on its early promise of providing rich content experiences across all screens.
This blog post was originally published on videonet.
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