The Present and Future of HTML5 Video Experiences

Jeff Whatcott's picture
Jeff Whatcott on March 28, 2010

As commercial availability of the Apple iPad draws near, we have been getting a lot of inquiries from customers looking for guidance on what they need to do to deliver great video experiences on these devices that exclusively support the HTML5 approach to video. These customers are excited about the possibilities of the iPad, but they also have concerns about what it will take to deliver great video experiences in this environment. They want to know what the tradeoffs and gotchas are, and what we're doing to help them navigate this new landscape.

Customers have been thrilled and somewhat surprised to learn that Brightcove has supported HTML5 in basic form since 2008, which is when we began to support the H.264 video format and released our open Media APIs for accessing content stored in the Brightcove online video platform. Since that time, it has been possible for customers to create HTML5 experiences on devices such as the Apple iPhone and iPod Touch and deliver video that renders beautifully. We have had several early adopter customers use our platform in this way.

As interest in HTML5 has continued to grow, it has become clear to us that we need to more crisply describe the HTML5 capabilities of our platform and our long-term roadmap for broadly supporting HTML 5 in our platform. So, today we are announcing the Brightcove Experience for HTML5 (press release, web page, dev center resources), a new solution that captures what are doing with HMTL5 today and describes our vision for the future of HTML5 video experiences.

I should pause here and clarify a couple of things. First, if you don't know what HTML5 is or why it is important, please head over to TechCrunch to read Jeremy Allaire's landmark post that describes the industry context in detail. The short version is that HTML5 is here to stay, but it is still in its infancy, and the Flash Platform is not going away for the foreseeable future, so it is important for website owners to develop a strategy for utilizing both approaches. Second, I should point out that our work with HTML5 is primarily about video experiences in a web browser context. We are doing lots of other work with video in a mobile app context with other solutions such as our Brightcove Mobile Experience for iPhone that accelerates the creation of native, downloadable apps that incorporate video experiences powered by Brightcove.  HTML5 is about video in the browser, and today it is primarily about video in web browsers on mobile platforms like Apple iPad, iPhone, and others.

To understand what we're doing with Brightcove Experience for HTML5, it is important to first define what we mean by the "Experience" part of the name. A lot of people tend to think about video in terms of playback and players: you download a video file, a player window renders, you press play, the video plays, you can forward, rewind, pause, and stop the video, etc. Obviously, playback is the foundation of a good video experience, but publishers want so much more than playback. What they want is a holistic video experience, which includes the elements like the following.

  • Branded Playback Environment: Publishers want to brand the playback environment so that their brand always shines through whether the video is viewed on their own site, or is embedded in another site somewhere out on the web.
  • Playlists: Publishers want the ability for a viewer to see not just a single video but whole playlists of related videos that encourage them to keep watching and engaging.
  • Advertising: Media companies want the ability to deliver a variety of different advertising formats in and around the video experience with a number of different insertion points including pre-roll, post-roll, overlay, hotspot, and branded skins, and companion ads that can be scripted and targeted to deliver maximum impact for the advertiser while still offering a positive user experience for the viewer.
  • Analytics: Publishers want the ability to view analytics about how many times each video title has been played, where the audience is coming from geographically, how deeply they were engaged with the video, and how the video playback experience affected their overall experience on the site, including purchase conversions.
  • Audience Profiling: publishers want a video experience that gathers deep information about viewer demographics and behavior so they can more effectively target advertising and tune their content strategy.
  • Calls to Action: Marketers want the ability to insert calls to action directly in the video playback experience to convert viewers into identified prospects or purchasers.
  • Social Sharing: Publishers want to offer viewers the ability to share video with friends via social networks, real-time media, and blogging platforms
  • Subtitles and Localization: Publishers want the ability to display display multilingual subtitles and localized playback controls to reach a global audience.
  • Multi-bitrate Delivery: When the video is delivered, publishers want to the video experience to adapt automatically so that the viewer receives the highest quality video that their machine is capable of displaying.
  • Security: Publishers want to be able to prevent viewers from distributing copies of their content and restrict access to authorized users.

That is a long list of requirements, but represents the reality of what our customers are looking for. They need way more than playback. They need way more than a simple video player. It's about the end to end experience - both what's seen on the screen and what goes on under the covers to orchestrate and measure and optimize the experience.

Our customers come to us seeking a platform that helps them create a video experience that is as sophisticated and powerful as their business strategy. That is what we and our ecosystem of partners have consistently delivered for years. And we have primarily done this using the ubiquitous Flash Platform technology stack that has allowed us to reach 99% of the world's Internet connected computers with a consistent video experience that just works.

Now we have seen the incredibly broad adoption of devices such as the iPhone (and soon the iPad) that do not support Flash, but do support the HTML5 standard. Many device platforms have pledged to support Flash video, but the adoption of non-Flash devices is expected to be broad enough that many publishers are worried that they will be missing a substantial audience if they rely exclusively on a Flash-only strategy. That is driving publishers to look for ways to deliver an equivalent video experience to what they can offer with Flash, but implemented using the HTML 5 standard.

For publishers who are used to building video experiences by cobbling together technologies on their own, the requirement to support  HTML5 in parallel with whatever they are doing with Flash means unwelcome additional cost and complexity for their web development teams. However, as Richard Wong of Accel put it, In Mobile, Fragmentation is Forever. Deal With It. Publishers really have no choice if they want to continue to maximize their audience. Dealing with web client fragmentation is going to be the reality for the foreseeable future.  So much for reaping savings from the death of IE6. DIY-centric shops will be kept busy just making their video work and risk crowding out work that could make it great.

For publishers who are using the Brightcove online video platform, the outlook is much more promising. We are investing to make it possible for them to deliver both Flash and HTML5 video experiences with equivalent capability without requiring a lot of extra work. That is our vision for the Brightcove Experience for HTML 5. Being able to target HTML5 devices without sacrificing the ability to customize the playback environment, gather detailed analytics, manage multi-bit rate delivery, and monetize their video with advanced advertising, etc. is where we are headed. Our customers rely on us to reduce the cost and complexity of making video part of their online strategy, and we intend to deliver on that expectation.

It will take some time to realize this vision. HTML5 is an emerging standard. There are many open questions about fundamental matters such as video formats (Ogg Theora vs H.264 vs future open codecs) and the proper way to implement advertising, analytics, and extensible user interface customizations in this new environment.  In many ways HTML5 today is where Flash video was in 2002. Replicating the massive industry ecosystem of ISVs, tools, services economy, developer community, and knowledge economy that has grown up around Flash will not happen overnight. But we have already laid the foundations of HTML5 support, and we would expect to make very substantial progress over the rest of this year.

One of the things you won't see from Brightcove is the Flash-bashing rhetoric that you may hear elsewhere. Our work to support HTML5 is not about weakening Flash, it is about pragmatically solving problems for our customers. Flash is and will continue to be a critical platform for us and for our customers. The fact is, most online video is experienced through Flash today, and that will continue to be the case for the foreseeable future. We have a very strong strategic alliance with Adobe, and we continue to believe that it is in our interests and the interests of our customers to be at the forefront of innovation on around the Flash Platform.  Our work with HTML5 is in addition to, not instead of, our work with Flash.

I encourage you to check out the documentation and downloads that we have provided for the Brightcove Experience for HTML5. If you have an iPhone or iPad or iPad emulator, check out the products section of from Safari on these devices, which has been updated to deliver a great HTML5 experience on these devices, while also delivering a great experience on Flash-capable devices.  And be sure to continue to watch us over the course of the year to see future releases of customizable HTML 5 video experience templates, advertising in the HTML5 environment, support for new codecs and streaming formats, and increasingly rich HTML 5 video analytics.

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smith (not verified) on May 31, 2010

The approach we are taking is based on standards, but we currently only support the H.264 encoding format. As the codec wars play out, we'll look at additional codecs. For browsers that already support Flash (e.g. Android with Flash Player 10.1), we continue to recommend Flash as the most practical and feature rich option.I reached here via Google

Jeff Whatcott on April 28, 2010

The current version of the iPhone OS does not allow for inline playback on iPhones.  It does allows inline playback on the iPad.  The word is that the future version of the iPhone OS will allow inline playback on iPhones as well.  With that, will come the ability skin the player and add functionality like what you describe.

Anonymous (not verified) on April 19, 2010

Is it possible to interact with an HTML5 video playing back on an iPhone. For example can a user click on a button and navigate to a new page?

Anonymous on April 1, 2010

Haha. I wish it would adapt technology from OtsLabs (
* ClearScale™ time-scaling engine
* IntelliARC™ video processing engine
* TrueSmooth™ video engine

This patented technologies are really great!

Anonymous on March 31, 2010

Both Silverlight and Flash offer much more than just video streaming.
Especially Silverlight were you have almost the full power of .Net.

So my opinion is that Microsoft will keep improving/adding features to Silverlight for
web apps development.

Anonymous on March 30, 2010

Flash before 10.1 has huge issues running on the ION (Atom + GPU) as well. Even in 10.1 with hardware H.254 decoding it is still not a smooth experience, likely because the Flash player is still using up a significant amount of CPU on those devices.

I personally noticed Flash player 10 use ~90% CPU and 10.1 use ~30% CPU by itself when playing video files.

Anonymous on March 30, 2010

Read an article about a month ago about how the best way to save Flash is for adobe to kill it and support HTML5, stating that people love creating video players and the like using Flash but hate that it needs to run in it's own special environment on web pages. The article also hinted that there were other competitors that could do the same and secure a quick victory by being there first. As you just insightfuly hinted, it's no secret Microsoft has a lot less to lose at this point.

Anonymous on March 30, 2010

on long videos (like hand-on labs, or university classes) it is very useful to run the video in 1.4x or even 2.0x faster.
as long as the voice is comprehendible.
this is the only feature makes me download the video and use windows media player.

I didn't see it yet on flash or in silverlight.
Is HTML5 will support that?

Thanks, Tom

Anonymous on March 29, 2010

I disagree that fragmentation is forever on mobiles. Even today (March 2010) the vast majority of mobile Web browsing is done with an HTML5 browser. LIke over 90%. It doesn't matter that the vast majority of phones don't have an HTML5 browser yet because the phones that don't aren't being used to browse the Web. An HTML5 browser is as important as a dialer on a phone today. The ones that don't have it will get it soon. It's free, it's open source, it runs on all architectures, it's vendor neutral, it's standardized, there are already thousands of apps plus the whole HTML4 Web.

Publishers don't have the budget to make multiple versions of everything for 25 platforms, especially not when just 1 HTML5 app covers 99% of your users, on iPhone, iPod, iPad, Android, Blackberry, Nokia, Palm, Chrome OS, Mac, IE9 and others. HTML5 Web development is incredibly easy compared to HTML4, and you can make extremely sophisticated apps, with any tools you want, no vendor lock-in at all.

The thing is, if HTML5 didn't already exist, we'd have to invent it. It fills a very clear need for a single common, open app platform on all computing devices, regardless of form factor.

> H.264
> Ogg

H.264 is the ISO audio video standard for 10 years now, and there are hardware decoders on all the video playing devices. It's the successor to DVD, but works over the Internet. It's in the camcorders, the video editors, the streaming servers. For 10 years now. Both YouTube and iTunes are made out of H.264. Both QuickTime Player and FlashPlayer play H.264. All the smartphones and pocket media players play it. It's on Blu-Ray also, and all the set-top boxes. It's in your NVIDIA GPU. It's specifically designed to be the one common video format for everyone to use. It's vendor neutral, there are hundreds or maybe thousands of manufacturers involved.

Ogg plays on Linux and in Firefox and in Chrome. Linux and Chrome both also play H.264. There are no professional tools for making or editing Ogg, no camcorders that make it, no hardware that decodes it, absolutely none of the infrastructure of the last decade of H.264. Ogg is also way technically inferior, it's frozen in time in the 1990's. Any time you waste on Ogg, you will not get back.

Jeff Whatcott on March 29, 2010

We're very customer driven.  We haven't seen a lot of customer demand for Silverlight, so we've yet to support it. It will be interesting to see what Microsoft does with Silverlight as HTML5 video becomes more broadly adopted.

Anonymous on March 29, 2010

I would second that desire to have h.264 served to me on Safari with ClicktoFlash and or with Chrome. Perhaps you can make that user desire to your customers and make the option easier for them to implement.

Anonymous on March 29, 2010

Proud HTML5 coder ... after many years of Flash (including beta-testing FutureSplash) ... but curious about why Silverlight isn't even mentioned in your article. I see a couple of mentions from years past, suggesting that Brightcove will be supporting Silverlight, but it is not included in this article about "the future", although Flash is. Oversight? Or do you think Silverlight was DOA? Or somewhere in between? ;)

Jeff Whatcott on March 29, 2010

Thanks.  The video in our product section is working well for us on iPhones here in the office. Please retry and send a note to webmaster at our domain name if you continue to see the issue.  You may want to make sure that your iPhone is running the latest version of the iPhone OS.  In any case, sorry for the trouble, and do let us know if you continue to be unable to get this working.

Jeff Whatcott on March 29, 2010

The approach we are taking is based on standards, but we currently only support the H.264 encoding format.  As the codec wars play out, we'll look at additional codecs.  For browsers that already support Flash (e.g. Android with Flash Player 10.1), we continue to recommend Flash as the most practical and feature rich option.
Be sure to check out this post so see what we're doing for Flash on devices:

Jeff Whatcott on March 29, 2010

Thanks for the comment.  The customers we are hearing from are primarily concerned with HTML5 on devices like the iPad and iPhone. They consider video on the desktop to be a solved problem, and view Flash as the ideal choice there.  So I would expect that most sites will continue to target the desktop (and mobile devices that will support Flash, e.g. Android, Symbian, etc.) with Flash and use HTML5 only in situations where Flash is not supported (like Apple iPhone/iPad/iPod Touch).  Having said that, if a Brightcove customer wanted to target the desktop with HTML5, the approach we are pursuing would give them that option. They would just need to modify their device detection logic to suit their preferences.

Anonymous on March 29, 2010

I would like to see HTML5 video being delivered to me on my desktop computer as well when using browsers that support it like Safari or Chrome (or Firefox if you're delivering in ogg too.)

It is a better quality video, more accessible and doesn't tax the resources of our computers as much, so it seems to me that if you have the interest of your customers and their customers at heart you will switch to delivering HTML5 for compatible browsers on the desktop-side as well instead of sticking with Flash only there too which would be purely for Adobe's benefit.


Anonymous on March 29, 2010

Are you detecting User-Agent and serving page only to Apple's devices? Will this work with Opera Mobile or Android Browser?

Anonymous on March 29, 2010

really liked the article, I believe it's the correct stance to take. however, the html5 experience is not really working on an iphone 3g, I get a box with a play button, with a line through it.