Why Can’t YouTube Eliminate Flash Entirely?

Why Can't YouTube Eliminate Flash Entirely?YouTube has been testing HTML5 for several years now. For those of us who are opposed to installing Flash on our desktops or devices, we’ve been able to enjoy YouTube sans Flash. Unfortunately, not all videos will play without Flash. Why is that?

If it weren’t for YouTube, I’d happily kick Flash out of my system like an unwanted guest that overstayed its welcome. Flash bogs things down. Even Microsoft’s Silverlight performs better on my Macs and PCs than Flash ever had.

Google is a leader in Web-based application scripting. Google Docs has in many ways redefined what an office suite is, breaking these applications free of native software and operating system restrictions. You can use Google Analytics to see real-time traffic as it flows through your site. You can even take part in a 10-person video conference with minimal lag while playing a game of Texas Hold’em. Unfortunately, YouTube still hasn’t fully shaken Flash as its primary video distribution platform.

I decided to bring this question to LockerGnome’s resident programmer and Web developer, Eddie Ringle. He suggested, “If everything that Flash took care of is rewritten in JavaScript, then ads could easily be wiped out entirely by some digging around in the JavaScript console or via a Chrome extension. As you might expect, advertisers (and publishers) would not be happy about this, so my guess is that Google is still working on figuring out how to integrate ads in a way that isn’t trivial to circumvent.”

With YouTube depending so much on ad overlays and pre-roll/post-roll advertising, it becomes painfully obvious that the reason YouTube is still clinging to Flash has less to do with performance and optimization and everything to do with supporting advertising in a way that isn’t easily blocked by visitors.

The act of recreating overlays and pre-roll scripts in HTML5 + JavaScript isn’t really that difficult. Safeguarding it from circumvention is another story. That isn’t to say the Flash version of YouTube can’t have its ads circumvented, but it does require a little additional know-how on the part of the ad blocker to perfect.

I’m no fan of ad blockers, but I’m even less of a fan of using Flash on non-gaming websites. I can only hope that Google will figure out how to make this work (or, at the very least, find an alternative) before Adobe gives up the Flash ghost entirely.

For now, you can give the HTML5 version of YouTube a try. Videos with ads will continue to play in the Flash player, but at least some of the videos you enjoy will be available on a clean, HTML5 interface.

What do you think? Should YouTube kick the Flash ghost? What would your suggested plan of attack be to keep both the advertisers and the users happy?

Image: HTML5 Logo

Article Written by

Ryan Matthew Pierson has worked as a broadcaster, writer, and producer for media outlets ranging from local radio stations to internationally syndicated programs. His experience includes every aspect of media production. He has over a decade of experience in terrestrial radio, Internet multimedia, and commercial video production.

  • http://twitter.com/KarlNU Karl Newark

    I don’t hate flash as much as a lot of people seem to, but HTML 5 certainly seems to have more capabilities, it will be good to see it get more traction all over the web.

  • Michael Stokes

    It just died on Android, and hasn’t ever been present int iOS. I think the days of the Flash Player are coming to an end. HTML5 is definitely taking over; as soon as YouTube gets rid of it, Adobe Flash will never again be installed on my PC.

  • http://www.facebook.com/john.chvatal.7 John Chvatal

    Why is it that when I view videos on my iPod there are ads most of the time? Isn’t the videos delivered as HTML5? They must have a pretty good idea of how to deliver ads that don’t rely on Flash.

    • ChavaM

      It’s not that they can’t deliver ads in HTML5, they’re just too easy to block.

      • sinekonata

        Absolutely, which is why the videos with embedded ads on desktop cannot be html5 if I recall correctly…

        Since I have adblock, that’s how I’ve come to differentiate youtubers that support ads and those that don’t. Lockergnome has all its videos in flash for example…

  • http://profiles.google.com/rysliv ryan haz

    I haven’t seen an ad on youtube for years, thanks to my ad blocker extension.

    • http://chris.pirillo.com/ Chris Pirillo

      I hate people like you. :)

      • gph456

        It’s almost required when Youtube likes to keep giving you ads whenever you pause videos and replay them, keeps giving you ads that are just below the time limit to skip, or/and the annoying pop ups when your reading something at the bottom of the screen. Reason I say almost is unless your ok with this, you’ll probably get an adblocker.

      • TucsonMatt

        Problem is, the ads are often so numerous and intrusive and they slow the computer waaaaay down that is’t almost self defense! Also, when you’re on a smaller screen and ads are everywhere, it ruins the browsing experience. I’ve clicked off sites because of all the ads, so I finally installed an ad blocking extension.

      • Lucas

        I understand your point, nothing is really free, but Youtube with ads is not USABLE. They should come up with a less intrusive ad.

      • sinekonata

        I hate idiots like you. Advertisement is the worst way of financing anything. It negatively affects mostly people with debt problems and other vulnerable persons like less educated people or kids.

        There are many more responsible ways to finance projects than product placement. That mentality of yours is the result of brainwash. A brainwash so brutal that you’ve come to think the honourable thing to do is watch ads to support the economy…

        Most countries in Europe in the 50s-70s had an ad-free TV network paid solely by citizens’ taxes but since your mindset indicates you’re from the US, you’re probably incapable grasping what would require thinking outside the “jungle-law” capitalist box..

  • bill fozzy

    Until a few weeks ago at a friend’s house, I wasn’t even aware Youtube had ads. Been using ad blockers for years.

  • http://twitter.com/lhamil64 Lee

    I uninstalled my adblocker because of the principle, but I HATE youtube ads.They are very annoying and obtrusive. What ever happened to Google showing “non-obtrusive text ads” to their users? Yeah, they do it on search, but why not on Youtube?

    • ChavaM

      How are they obtrusive? They’re even skipable.

  • http://www.cyberfanatic.com/ CyberFanatic

    One more article down. But I’d still like to respond to this aritcle. YouTube makes most of its money from ads anyway. So it would be hard for them to move to HTML% video anyway because it doesn’t support ads. Just agreeing and adding to what you wrote.

  • Ramin

    I don’t have many issues with flash, a lot of my problems come up with HTML5, but I suppose it’s still in its infancy and has a long way to go.

  • http://www.facebook.com/jtgralka J.T. Gralka

    Here’s the thing, folks. HTML5 is great, but it’s only as good as the browser interpreting it. A lot of the flack that Flash receives anymore should be directed to poor browser support and not Flash in and of itself. Whichever way you look at it, the HTML5 standard will certainly contribute to the continued improvement of web browsers in the future. …at least I should hope so. *cough, cough* (Google Chrome) *cough, couch*

  • http://www.facebook.com/hen.sjoberg Hen Matt Sjöberg

    I would love to ditch Flash but I can’t, if they eliminate Flash, then Flash would die.

  • http://jackdurrant.com/ Jack Durrant

    There’s an AdBlock extension that can be installed in Chrome and Safari, and it blocks YouTube adverts. Converting adverts to JavaScript won’t make a difference. Besides, why don’t Google just create a native app for Windows and OS X for viewing YouTube videos? That’s what they’ve done on Android and are working on for iOS, and the Android YouTube app is excellent!

  • http://www.facebook.com/beshoy.lovesjesus Beshoy Shafek Malk

    Amazon card..it won’t take that long for everything to be html5

  • http://www.facebook.com/jrdnv Jordan Vasquez

    People don’t use really compatible browsers yet. There’s a good portion running IE6……

  • http://twitter.com/ItsJordanVbaby Jordan V.

    When ever I use Microsoft’s Silverlight it will never function properly! but I get a lot of missing plug ins using flash when I’m loading a lot of youtube videos :/ Any change would be good!

  • http://twitter.com/uthmanbaksh Uthman Baksh

    Right now, I’m trying Youtube on HTML5. Flash is slow and 85% of the time doesn’t even work on Youtube. So far, the videos load better and faster on HTML5. I’m using it on Google Chrome for the Mac. That to me gived the best result since Youtube is an arm of Google.

  • http://twitter.com/LOLBOOM24 Aly Osman

    You tube should take a vote and see what the community wants! I don’t think we need flash it is ridiculous most people don’t use it.

  • Jesse Aranda

    I don’t see much of the point, Ad-blockers will be made regardless of which way you do it. Already the ad-blockers take out youtube ads so this isn’t new. If it gets really bad I could just copy the video url into a downloader and watch ad-free on my hdd [while downloading the next video I want to see] and delete the video I just finished watching. If people don’t want ads they’ll find a way.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1430310093 Wolfee Darkfang

    I really wish they would move on. My only complaint with their HTML5 viewer is I can’t find a browser addon that disabled auto-play for it. Most only work with the flash viewer. Other than that, I hate the flash viewer because it has a huge impact on my ram and processing power, slows down the browser, and skips a lot.

  • http://twitter.com/petersodja Peter Sodja

    Another mindless Flash hater. Please, do your homework. Flash does not “bog things down”. On the contrary. It is by FAR the best way to play rich media. Its incomparable faster than html5 and even the first version of flash was more capable than todays html5. Which is just embarrasing. Flash, at least for now, is here to stay and trying to get rid of it is just full blown retarded, since so many pages use it. And you would miss out on so much great content.
    Really dude, its retarded.

    I know everybody is drooling over html5 right now (mostly people that don’t know the first thing about it, as seen in this article and some of the comments), but the fact is that html5 is in its infant stages. Ok, no problem, you might think…. WRONG. Flash is still seeing faster development than html5 is! Flash as a proprietary product is just way easier to develop because it is in the sole hands of developers. HTML5 on the other hand is in the hands of 9999 comities that will never be able to develop it because they will never agree on how to do that. And this is already quite clear, even so early in its development.

    So don’t hold your breath for html5. And don’t get me wrong, I would just LOVE if we could replace Flash with html5, it would be much easier for me. But I don’t see it happening, not in the future and certainly not now. It is way more probable we will see a new standard in the near future.

    Ok, ok, html5 is ok as a secondary option for playing vids and to display simplified content for your typical apple fanboy zombies that were commanded by The Man to hate Flash.

    • Legend

      Hi Peter,

      Whilst I agree with your comment and your right to say it, you would have much more credibility if you ran it through a spell checker before posting. Better still, learn how to spell words like “committee” and “incomparably”, then you can proof read your own work.

      If HTML5 is so under-developed, and Flash is ‘still seeing faster development’, why didn’t you cite an article about it for us to verify your point?

      You may well be correct in your post, but please show us the proof so that we can confidently agree with you.

      - Legend

  • http://www.facebook.com/GeorgeFrancis222 George Francis Pirkhoffer

    I think flash is on it’s way out as I have seen an increasing amount of website builders being html 5 compatible. I think html5 is a much better alternative and has the potential to be very widely used and become the standard instead of flash.

  • http://bkgcom.blogspot.in/ Bharat Kumar Gupta

    all i can say is future is good, i have always embraced open technologies and i cannot wait to see what awesome things lie ahead, def i would expect more speedy systems more robust apps, more smart apps, ofcorse secured too along with more maturity of the platforms, its clear that these open technologies are here to stay and its now safe to predict the possibility of consist UI’s across most devices we use in our lives, UI again is a very small example. Along with that even great number of opportunities for most people in development space. Open technologies ftw

  • http://twitter.com/TheDualCoreDude Lewis Wickes

    As much as I hate flash, I’m totally with google here advertisers and publishers would not be happy about people skiping ads, despite this google really needs to kill flash and find a better platform. :)

  • oliver18754

    I have been watching your video everyday since october 2009 and as always, they’re all entertaining. I always ignore all hater comments and always try to defend you and diana when i can. Thanks for all the entertaining videos and keep it up.

  • Lucas

    Have you ever used YouTube Center script?? Use it and then rewrite this post. There is no way I can go back to “normal” YouTube anymore. Especially (even if you don’t like) the ad-blocking function of it.

  • Tommy Sadler

    Even though I hate Flash, YouTube has always been good to me. I’ve never really realized and big problems with it. Yes it was slow at times even with a good internet connection, but I’ve always been fine with it.

  • Barry Smith

    I have always embraced technology when and where it was applicable. (good job I work as a web developer then eh?) But I’m also a fan of using technology when and where it was best to be used.

    Yes a’m an avid fan of HTML5 and I also am a programmer of AS3(flash) and am more than happy to embrace the new feature rich HTML content when and where available.

    But for now at least, flash is still the best platform for streaming video content. Not that HTML5 or any other technology can’t do a job of doing it! – But for control, and features flash still (for now) holds the edge. But I also believe HTML and other technologies will either surface or advance to offer the web using community and its developers a better option.

  • andrew_c

    In Firefox and Opera I can trivially block the Flash ads before the videos and watch the videos on YouTube. I can even do it on IE9 by (ab)using the tracking protection feature. Switching to HTML5 will not make me see less ads as I see none on YouTube. Other sites I choose to allow non-intrusive ads.

    I suspect that the people who are seeing ads on YouTube at the moment will not suddenly have an epiphany and start blocking them if Google switch it fully to HTML 5

  • Cworld01

    Yes, i think YouTube kick the flash ghost because the technology is changing sec by sec. So why not Google ( YouTube).

  • http://www.facebook.com/mnm9994u Muhammed Nazim

    Even though I believe that however good the code to do something is… there is always a way out… So I don’t expect YouTube killing flash altogether far away.

  • IvanTomica

    I had a dream, about wonderful world. World without Flash, where all of the videos are powered by html5. I hope one day my dream will come true.

  • http://twitter.com/creation4use Samuel Guillermo

    eventually i think the physical computer will no longer even be necesarry

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=681289821 Bob Snyder

    As much ass I despise the ads on YouTube, I realize someone has to pay the bills – but figure out how to use ads in HTML5, already, YouTube! There’s gotta be a way.

  • http://twitter.com/joelovesandroid Joe Sakamoto

    I hope youtube finds a way to make all the youtube videos powered by html5 soon. I usually have flash off on my web browser but every single time I visit youtube I have to turn flash back on. It’s really annoying.

  • http://www.facebook.com/eileen.j.hay Eileen Hay

    my flash doesn’t crash much, still would get ready for html5

  • A Dash

    They want money so they have flash

  • http://www.kindorf.net/ Scott Kindorf

    Flash is a dinosaur. YT’s implementation consistantly crashes systems, and even causes some systems (cough) to have nvlddmkm crash & recovery events. HTML5 is the answer.

  • ipad8769

    HTML 5 is the way of the future, and flash is truly not going to be here for much longer. Love the Geeks Outs Chris! Thanks.

  • Alex

    Often I get a message when my computer crashes it’s because of a problem with Flash. It’s no darn fun. Flash slows my computer down on start up and when I’m playing something on youtube it isn’t a smooth operation. There are always starts and stops even when it is buffered completely. Flash is clunky. I wish I could get rid of it forever.

  • 166mhz

    usually it’s bad flash scripting .. besides that a lot of browser needs to update their flash and more likely this is the main problem – lazy user … flash is here to stay like the IDE HD .. it’s part of the system and it’s not going away .. besides – I’m a big time flash programmer and I love it …

  • Curtis Coburn

    What I really want to see is Google making every video on Youtube available for mobile devices. There are a few videos that I still have to go to my desktop for to watch a Youtube video. Most of these videos, are older videos, and or official music videos. To see flash go, it would be a good thing, things will be faster, and cleaner.
    Thanks for this article. Good information and really to the point.

    • Colton

      The removing of mobile viewing is up to the uploaded, not Google. Why someone wouldn’t want someone to view on mobile I have no idea.

      • Curtis Coburn

        I don’t think it should be up to the user to choose where people can view. Many computers are moving into the mobile devices, and many of them do not have flash. The user should have 3 choices.
        Private = only people that the user emails can see the video
        Unlisted = Everyone with the link
        Public = Everyone in the world

        That’s the choices that should be there. Mobile should be available to everyone. Desktop, Tablet, we still get the content in some form.

      • sinekonata

        It’s not the user, it’s google that decides. Based on how much your video content is copy”right ” infringement, youtube can allow that video but only on desktops. I imagine it’s a way to push the uploader to “come clean” and repair the copyright “mistake”.

  • kevalc7

    HTML5 adds many new syntactical features. These include the new video, audio and canvas element, as well as the integration of scalable vector graphics content and MathML for mathematical formulas. These features are designed to make it easy to include and handle multimedia and graphical content on the web without having to resort to proprietary plugins and APIs.

  • Darren Persad

    I see benefit to the removal of Flash and being replaced by HTML5, but there still is benefit in using Flash; whatever Google’s using for their HTML5 engines is very unreliable, doesn’t run as well as its Flash counterpart and really slows down at higher resolutions. Flash works better in all those areas and surprisingly it isn’t a huge bog on resources on my older Windows XP and Windows Vista-based machines versus some of the HTML5 stuff that I’ve used. But that’s pretty much were the good stories of Flash end, and I’m pretty sure you know what I mean.

    • Darren Persad

      P.S. One more gripe about HTML5; video quality on Google’s end of HTML5 is significantly lowered, almost to an unwatchable point on certain videos.

  • http://www.facebook.com/familyhearingandbalancecenter Dale Hansen

    I don’t mind the ads. Youtubers gotta make the bucks for their efforts.

  • nookkin

    Unfortunately HTML5 videos always crash after a while in Chrome for me, on both of my computers. I understand it’s a beta but this is the main reason I had to opt out. Bummer.

  • sinekonata

    As of 2013, html5 player from youtube finally kicks the flash counterpart’s ass in so many aspects.

    It’s faster to load, much faster. And it’s not a plugin, with all the very good implications it has for me like being able to properly use hotkeys, mouse gestures and multiple screens.

    It’s much more responsive when browsing through the video and it’s also immensely easier to script and control, including fending ads and downloading content.

    So in short html5 youtube is already much better for the user, and flash youtube is still better for google… If youtube was a democracy, flash would already be out…

  • MarkLeavenworth

    How awesome to learn about HTML5! I can now easily post videos to my home website over the weekend or after 5PM and all of my friends/customers can view them! And now I don’t have to worry about needing a ‘Flash’ update every time I click on a video or link! What a drag that was! Apparently the Flash people have never had to work at anything other than computers and websites.

    What? What’s that? Need flash player? Need to sign up for html5 test? What’s going on here? OH for crying out loud is Microsoft and Britain trying to take over the world again? Man, give it a rest already. Don’t you have some terrorists in Syria or Egypt to tend to or something like that keep you out of our computers?