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The iPad: a Threat to Flash's Video Dominance?

The much-anticipated Apple Inc. (Nasdaq: AAPL) iPad is being heralded by some as a watershed moment for HTML5, an emerging open standard that could eliminate the need for proprietary plug-ins. But media publishers say it's too early to ring the death knell for Adobe Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: ADBE) Flash, by far the dominant platform for Web-fed video applications and services.

But that's not stopping media publishers from adding support for HTML5. After all, the iPad, which ignores Flash, is expected to sell big starting tomorrow, so no one wants to be caught off-guard should Apple's nifty computer slate catalyze HTML5 adoption and threaten to unseat Flash. Among those that will help push the HTML5 video needle early on is Netflix Inc. (Nasdaq: NFLX), which announced today that it will offer a free iPad app that allows subscribers to stream titles from its "Watch Instantly" library. (See iPad App Store Is Live, iPad Reviews Are In, Apple Begins Shipping iPads, and Netflix Launches iPad App.)

Brightcove Inc. , for example, revealed on its blog on Sunday (apparently, they work weekends over there) that it has supported HTML5 "in basic form since 2008," the same time it started to support the H.264 video format. It then did one better on Monday, announcing the "Brightcove Experience for HTML5," a more thorough framework for HTML5-compatible devices, like Apple's iPhone, iPod Touch, and the brand spanking new iPad.

thePlatform Inc. , the Comcast Corp. (Nasdaq: CMCSA, CMCSK)-owned video publishing firm, also offered some detail about its HTML5 efforts this week, noting that it applied an iPad publishing profile to its "mpx Beta" media management system from the get-go. (See ThePlatform Encroaches on Brightcove's Turf .)

Still, HTML5's got a ways to go before becoming a serious alternative, let alone a threat, to Flash, says Marty Roberts, vice president of marketing for thePlatform.

"The concept of HTML5 is great. But there are gaping holes to solve before it becomes a real, viable alternative to something like Flash," says Roberts, who started his career at RealNetworks Inc. (Nasdaq: RNWK) and was there to witness the bloody format war between Real and Microsoft Corp. (Nasdaq: MSFT).

Chief among those holes is HTML5's lack of inherent ad policy support, which will make it more difficult for studios to cash in on their Web video offerings. They can "stitch" ads into or around their HTML5 videos, but dynamic mid-roll and pre-roll ads won't factor in early on.

Roberts says HTML5 is also still missing a "robust player framework" to display content, while Flash has solid support for features like search and content sharing.

But those early shortcomings won't persist forever, and today aren't enough to stop anyone from starting to support HTML5. ThePlatform, says Roberts, already has several customers actively looking at the technology, with much of it specifically targeted to the iPad.

"There's a lot of potential for HTML5… but the writing of Flash's obituary is really too soon," Roberts adds, noting that he expects more and more premium content to be put on Adobe's platform with the coming of Flash Access 2.0, which incorporates digital rights management (DRM).

Brightcove seems to agree. HTML5, the company notes, "is here to stay, but it is still in its infancy, and the Flash Platform is not going away for the foreseeable future, so it is important for Website owners to develop a strategy for utilizing both approaches."

And the iPad may be just one of several platforms that will give HTML5 some early momentum. YouTube Inc. is already experimenting with it, contributing to a prediction from our former leader, Scott Raynovich, that YouTube will start streaming HTML5 video by year's end.

— Jeff Baumgartner, Site Editor, Light Reading Cable

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