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Are you still using Flash for your videos?

adobe-flash-playerOver the last several years Flash has been on a slow decline. It arguably started when Steve Jobs said Apple wouldn’t support it. As HTML5 came along it slowly started replacing video on the web. Back in 2010 YouTube started using HTML5 video and earlier this year they announced all video would default to HTML5.

There’s a large contingent out there pushing for, waiting for, cheering for, Flash’s demise. OccupyFlash.org is a site dedicated to Flash’s final days. It encourages everyone to uninstall or disable Flash. The idea being that if people stop using it, then content producers will have to switch to HTML5.

Google is encouraging the change

Google seems to think you shouldn’t be using Flash either. Besides their move to use HTML5 on YouTube, they’ve been making changes to their Chrome browser regarding Flash. Chrome doesn’t support Flash the way other browsers do. It’s built in so they can manage it. Users can choose to turn it off though if you jump on board with the Occupy movement.

So Flash video can be seen without any issues in Chrome (generally speaking). But back in September, Google announce they’ve changed a setting that will prevent Flash videos from playing automatically. There is a setting that allows plugin content (like Flash) to run or not run. The September update changed the default of that setting from “Run all plugin content” to “Detect and run important plugin content.”

The word “important” in the setting is key. To Google, Flash video presented smaller than 400×300 isn’t important. It is considered peripheral to the page’s main content due to it’s size. Granted, it’s usually ads that run smaller than the stated size so perhaps they aren’t too far off in their definition. But with this change, Chrome stops Flash video below that minimum size from playing automatically. If, however, the smaller video is in HTML then it will automatically play (if it’s set to do so).

That seems to be a pretty clear opinion on the matter, formalised in a setting in Chrome.

Why this matters

It may seem like a small thing they’ve done. It’s just a simple default preference and users can still click on an ad and play it if they choose. But the impact could be huge for video ad creators and networks.

If a video doesn’t play, then it isn’t seen. This means ad networks don’t get paid because the video was never viewed. The creators of the video never get their ads seen, so they could potentially lose business.

According to an article on onlinevideo.net, the change could cause 12.1 billion ads to be paused (stopped from playing automatically) in the last quarter of 2015. That’s if all advertisers continued using Flash and didn’t make any changes. The article didn’t say how much revenue would be lost with those ads but it’s likely to be at least tens of billions.

Beyond just ads, anyone that has video on their site that meets the conditions for size in Chrome may also see an impact. These could be videos for product reviews, case studies, or any other topic presented as “related” content but isn’t the focus of the main page (so it’s a smaller size). Though in many cases these videos probably aren’t set to autoplay, you can imagine situations where they might be. And if they are, then they best not be in Flash.

What to do about it

If you already use HTML5, always use larger size videos, or know your viewers never use Chrome, then all this is nothing to worry about. But if you still use Flash, we recommend switching over to using MP4 over HTTP for all video. You can add a Flash fallback if you know you have viewers with older browsers.  This will ensure all your videos will play automatically (if you want them to) in Chrome no matter what size they are.

Google’s actions are one more step towards the end of Flash video. The time is coming when it will be a thing of the past. There are many poised to rejoice when that happens. Will you be one?

Oliver Burt

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