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

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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.