Farewell To Flash: What It Means For Digital Video Publishers

It’s been more than five years since Steve Jobs wrote his infamous “Thoughts on Flash letter citing the high level of energy consumption, lack of performance on mobile and poor security as the reasons his company’s products would not support Adobe Flash technology. Finally, it appears we’re getting closer to the curtain closing on Flash.

Not too long ago, Flash powered a high percentage of the Internet’s vast array of video content. Today, that number is lower. But make no mistake, there are still many Flash-powered multimedia items on the web, including graphics, videos, games and animations, like GIFs, a preferred method of expression for millennials and adults alike.

We’ve been watching HTML5 impede on Flash for a while, and it’s now taking center stage, establishing itself as a predominant creative format, validated by the recent moves by Google and Mozilla that are only helping to accelerate that transition.

Over the years, Flash has become famous for a few less-than flattering features that can all play a role in hindering user experience, including intrusive experiences, increasing page-load times, lowering a site’s search engine optimization (SEO) and security flaws.

It’s important to remember that Flash was developed in a time where the desktop was king.

Despite all these grievances, the digital-video advertising industry has been forced to use Flash because of VPAID (Video Player-Ad Interface Definition), a standard that allows a video ad and a video player to communicate with each other. VPAID provides a way to dynamically swap or customize video-ad creative based on ad decisions, and has long been used for Flash-based video ads on desktops.

When you consider the fact that Flash needs to be installed (as opposed to HTML5, which requires no installation), it’s easy to see why in the long term, it didn’t stand a chance. Some would argue that Apple’s refusal to ever support it should have been a sign of things to come.

However, it’s important to remember that Flash was developed in a time where the desktop was king. The long load times it commands simply aren’t conducive to mobile environments — a deal-breaker for today’s mobile-first world.

What Does The Change Mean For Publishers?

In spite of all this, for digital-video publishers, excitement may not be the initial emotion evoked by Flash‘s funeral. With the goal of increasing browsing speed and reducing power consumption for users, Google’s Chrome desktop browser announced their formerly opt-in setting that pauses plug-in content that isn’t considered essential to the webpage will become a default setting by early September.

This means that if publishers don’t upgrade their format specification, some or all of their video content may no longer be available for people to view; this will certainly affect viewer loyalty and monetization efforts.

For example, Flash video ads served in a desktop Chrome browser will load in a paused state, then the user will have to click the ad for it to play. These ads will still register as impressions. However, it won’t take long for programmatic buyers to scale back their bids on video ad inventory garnering a high number of impressions with no quartiles.

Publishers need to urge their buyers to prepare for the upcoming Flash-pocalypse because, despite the publishers‘ level of preparation, if their buyers don’t have the proper HTML5 creative assets, it will impact their ability to transact, having an impact on publisher revenue and the ability to successfully implement advertiser campaigns.

How Publishers Can Prepare

The most crucial thing for publishers is going to be ensuring that their advertisers and demand partners (ad networks, ad exchanges and advertisers) are providing and hosting HTML5 ad creatives moving forward.

Publishers themselves will also need to migrate their tech stack. Not having a complete HTML5 advertising technology stack can potentially impact their ad revenue as buyer bids will eventually subside for non-compatible inventory.

Publishers need to urge their buyers to prepare for the upcoming Flash-pocalypse.

Any change that has the potential to have a significant, long-term impact on a publisher’s business is going to be a bit scary. However, in the long run, this change will be better for the digital ecosystem as a whole.

In fact, some advertising technology companies have already begun to automatically convert Flash ads to HTML5 to help make the transition for publishers less painful.

The Impact

For publishers, one of the biggest wins of Flash‘s depreciation comes in the form of engineering resources saved. Historically, video publishers have always wanted to pick a standard, but the reality is, they haven’t been able to because of the aforementioned VPAID issue.

They’ve essentially been forced to use Flash to keep their ads business running — but also support an HTML5 code base. This means that any software management, maintenance and updates they make, like bug fixes, must be addressed in both code bases, which is very time-consuming from an engineering standpoint.

A major concern for publishers today is the amount of media consumption that’s occurring in mobile environments.

By switching their platform to HTML5, companies can improve supportability, development time will decrease and the duplicative efforts of supporting two code bases will be eliminated. It will also result in lower operating costs and a consistent user experience between desktop and mobile web.

A major concern for publishers today is the amount of media consumption that’s occurring in mobile environments. They need to prioritize providing the best possible experience on mobile, and the decline of Flash and movement to HTML5 will do just that, as Flash has never worked well on mobile.

Time spent on mobile devices is still climbing steadily; according to eMarketer, U.S. adults will spend more than 5.5 hours per day with digital media in 2015, the majority (2:51) of which will be spent on a mobile device.

Popular desktop browsers, like Chrome, revoking their support for Flash, is a catalyst for HTML5 becoming digital-video advertising’s format for the future.

A Win-Win-Win

I believe that a Flash-free world will be better for everyone. HTML5 is conducive to the direction media consumption is heading and will positively affect people’s digital-video viewing (a primary concern for today’s digital publishers), creating a better overall Internet experience. It also takes less bandwidth than Flash to run, making it much more efficient for battery life on consumer’s devices.

There will be some initial challenges for digital-video publishers and broadcasters. For example, HTML5 creative is heavier, so they’ll need to be diligent about updating their specs and acceptance. But in the long run, they will be able to provide a better user experience, which in turn will help drives results for their advertisers.

News with such big implications for the digital-ad world can often warrant mixed reactions and spark discussions over who will benefit the most. But this is one change that I think both publishers and advertisers can appreciate and recognize as a huge step forward for the ecosystem.

Take a bow, Flash; your grand finale is here — and everyone in the audience should be clapping.