YouTube dumps Flash for HTML5

The online video service's switch to HTML5 could spell doom for Adobe Flash and Microsoft Silverlight

Youtube logo
Rego Korosi (Creative Commons BY or BY-SA)

In a blow to proprietary rich Internet plug-ins, YouTube, which had been a stalwart supporter of Adobe’s Flash plug-in technology, revealed this week that it now defaults to the HTML5 <video> tag. The move shows HTML5's continued march toward Web dominance.

“Four years ago, we wrote about YouTube’s early support for the HTML5 <video> tag and how it performed compared to Flash. At the time, there were limitations that held it back from becoming our preferred platform for video delivery. Most critically, HTML5 lacked support for Adaptive Bitrate (ABR) that lets us show you more videos with less buffering,” said Richard Leider, YouTube engineering manager. “Over the last four years, we’ve worked with browser vendors and the broader community to close those gaps, and now, YouTube uses HTML5 <video> by default in Chrome, IE 11, Safari 8, and in beta versions of Firefox.”

Leider notes other content providers, including Netflix and Vimeo, as well as computer technology vendors such as Apple and Microsoft, have embraced HTML5. “By providing an open standard platform, HTML5 has also enabled new classes of devices like Chromebooks and Chromecast. You can support HTML5 by using the <iframe> API everywhere you embed YouTube videos on the Web.” Additionally YouTube is deprecating the “old style” of Flash <object> Embeds and its Flash API.

YouTube’s move serves as “an important milestone for HTML5 and attests to how far the technology has come in the last few months,” analyst Al Hilwa of IDC says in an email. “The HTML5 video codec issue has been one of the more intractable areas until recently, but the tides have shifted especially as browser competition has heated up. I think this is good news for the industry overall in the long run. With YouTube being the big gorilla in Web video, I expect other sites will in time follow their lead.”

Despite continued gripes that HTML5 has not quite been up to snuff at times and a famous snub from Facebook, the standard for rich Web development certainly has gained an important convert in YouTube, while the days seem numbered for Flash and Microsoft’s Silverlight plug-in. Late Apple founder Steve Jobs probably did the most to the further the decline by refusing to support Flash on the company’s wildly popular iOS handheld devices. In fact, Flash shows a downward trajectory on W3Techs' report  on the number of websites using Adobe’s multimedia platform. It has dropped to 11.9 percent this month versus more than 15 percent a year ago. The numbers are far worse for Microsoft’s late-arriving Flash rival, Silverlight. W3Techs notes it's used on fewer than 0.1 percent of websites.

Regardless of the HTML5 stampede, there's a place for Flash and Silverlight, analyst Jeffrey Hammond of Forrester Research says: “We still see them pop up as part of a legacy browser support strategy and on devices like smart TVs, or where producers want to protect content with DRM. But the places where both are used have certainly grown more niche over time.”

Copyright © 2015 IDG Communications, Inc.