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Flash is dead. Before long, HTML5 will take its place. That is, for a growing number of developers and companies, the common wisdom.

But that doesn't mean that everyone is convinced that HTML5 is anywhere near ready to take center stage. One of the skeptics: the BBC's Director of Future Media & Technology, Erik Huggers.

In a blog post on Friday, Huggers explained why the BBC is sticking with Flash for the time being, unlike many companies and organizations which are already making and planning HTML5 transitions. In his post, he made a statement that is sure to give pause to those who think HTML5 is destined to be the best thing since sliced bread: "HTML5 is starting to sail off-course." While noting that the BBC is "committed to the aims of HTML5", he expressed some honest worries:

The fact is that there's still a lot of work to be done on HTML5 before we can integrate it fully into our products. As things stand I have concerns about HTML5's ability to deliver on the vision of a single open browser standard which goes beyond the whole debate around video playback.

One of Huggers' primary concerns is that various parties working on the HTML5 spec are increasingly putting their own interests before the goal of "bringing HTML5 to a ratified state." As Huggers notes, this isn't anything new, and in the past, proprietary implementations of technologies have frequently won out over the standards they were supposed to be based on.

It's far too early to tell if key HTML5 stakeholders, such as browser vendors, will eventually opt to forget that HTML5 is supposed to be a 'standard', as they have done with other standards in the past, but Huggers clearly hints at the possibility. As NewTeeVee notes, Huggers may have been referring to the fact that Apple has been showing off HTML5 functionality that is only supported by Apple's Safari browser when he wrote of "browser vendors...showcasing proprietary HTML5 implementations."

In my opinion, it is going to be difficult for HTML5 to overcome the challenges previous web standards have faced in the past. The reason: the process of developing standards, especially those with goals as lofty as HTML5, is something that inevitably takes more time than the market is often willing to wait. Vendors, knowing this, have an incentive to move faster, even if it basically defeats the development of true standards.

From this perspective, developers and companies might be wise to heed Huggers' justification for the BBC's continued use of Flash: "it currently happens to be the most efficient way to deliver a high quality experience to the broadest possible audience." While Flash certainly doesn't and won't offer the best experience for every website or application, Huggers highlights an important point. At the end of the day, developers and companies care a lot more about technologies (and standards) than consumers do. Consumers, on the other hand, care almost exclusively about experience. Until HTML5 can guarantee the best experience possible, at least some of the HTML5 optimism out there would seem premature.

Patricio Robles

Published 17 August, 2010 by Patricio Robles

Patricio Robles is a tech reporter at Econsultancy. Follow him on Twitter.

2419 more posts from this author

Comments (4)


Andrew Roberts

I agree with him. Considering the Beeb make huge use of video there's a real mess with the current HTML 5 video supported formats. Firefox, true to their word, have opted for open source ogg theroa format whilst Chrome, Safari and IE utilise the H.264 which is patented and requires licensing fees for these browser makers. This has huge implications for developers, and web content creators, having to provide video in several formats to ensure the audience can actally watch it. So much for everyone striving for an open source, and standard HTML 5 future.

about 6 years ago


Andrew Ingram

Their reservations would be more understandable if iPlayer ran at anywhere near acceptable speeds on my Mac.

Viewing a 1080p video file encoded with h.264 on any widely available video player on my 2008 iMac, I have absolutely no problems whatsoever.

As soon as I try to view anything on the iplayer desktop client in HD, my CPU usage maxes out and I have to close every single app just to have any chance of watching the video at anything resembling realtime, even when I do manage to get it playing it's frequently jerky and unwatchable.

As it stands, iPlayer is simply not suitable for watching HD content.

about 6 years ago


Paul Rowlingson

I also agree with Erik Huggers - it is early days yet for HTML5 and as yet there is no decisive format with both OGG & H.264 required to support all browsers. An FLV encode is also required for those viewing in older browsers, so until either a standard format emerges (this may even be webm with the VP8 codec from Google) or the majority of users have switched to compatible browsers there is little economic sense

about 6 years ago


Robert Faulkner

Do consumers exclusively care about experience? VHS vs Beetamax, PC vs MAC etc. would not support this.

about 6 years ago

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