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Google political move stifles web video distribution & complicates our workflow

Google has thrown a monkey wrench in present & future recommended practices

By Allan Tépper | January 16, 2011

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In case you didn't hear yet, Google recently announced the elimination of support for H.264 in HTML5 video in its popular Chrome web browser within the next few months, in favor of WebM (VP8) and Theora video códecs. Despite Google's official justifications for the move in the name of openness, many analysts (including myself) see this as a political move against Apple, and even hypocritical since the Chrome browser has contained (and will continue to contain) an embedded Flash player. Our logical conclusion is that Google's next step will be to drop support for H.264 in its Android operating system too. This happens after H.264 already has achieved support from Adobe, Apple, and even Microsoft. Up until now, Google's Chrome browser has directly supported H.264 with HTML5's video tag. Before this shocking below the belt punch, many content producers were well along the way of offering HTML5 video with H.264, playable as raw or automatic fallback to the same file embedded in Flash if the browser didn't support it in HTML5, as I have covered in my seminars. However, as we see the writing on the wall, this will likely no longer be sufficient for the ever popular Android devices as they likely become updated to newer versions which would purposefully exclude H.264 playback, especially considering the poor Flash performance on most of the current Android devices that even support it at all. So within a short time, the preferred video códecs for Android devices will likely be WebM (VP8) or Theora, while for Apple iOS devices (AppleTV, iPad/iPhone/iPod Touch), it will remain to be H.264.

What does this mean for us content producers? The goal of any intelligent content producer is to create material which is visible on all popular computers, mobile devices, set top boxes & HDTV sets with onboard streaming, including Apple's iOS (AppleTV, iPad/iPhone/iPod Touch) and Google's Android phones, tablets (including most non-Apple ones), and GoogleTV. Unless Google relents (which I hope but do not expect to happen), content producers who want to offer a universally accepted, seamless experience on the mentioned devices will be now need to encode web video in at least two video códecs (i.e. H.264 and WebM or Theora) with the required web code to auto-negotiate among raw H.264, raw WebM (or Theora), and H.264 embedded in Flash. Google has thrown a monkey wrench into our workflow and best practices, and I'm not the only one complaining. If Google doesn't relent almost immediately, I'll be writing articles and creating tutorials about how to solve this mess. Stand by…

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Comments

David Williams: | January, 17, 2011

This article is just a little bit silly. WebM is open source, so is Chrome and Android. H.264 is not. Far better to be free of any potential future restrictions or fees.
Regardless of H.264s removal, about ten seconds after it’s taken out of Chrome, there will be a seamless plugin available. H.264 will not be excluded. Silly article…

Allan T: | January, 17, 2011

David,

1) The point is not what is free or what might cost the typical professional content producer US$1 (one US dollar per year). The point is making your content visible.
2) Are you comfortable knowing that Chrome users won’t be able to see your content unless they are savvy enough to download and install a future plugin (if that plugin is ever created)?
3) Are comfortable about knowing that Android users likely won’t see your content at all?
If Google doesn’t relent, you will lose viewership if you don’t encode for both worlds, and make your website auto-negotiate.

Allan T

stephen v2: | January, 17, 2011

Unfortunately, I agree with David. The headline about “stifling innovation” is just a grabber not clearly even referenced in what you wrote.

H.264 is not a open standard and if you profit from it commercially, subject to fees - that’s fact. It’s an excellent codec - that’s fact as well. WebM is open source - that’s a fact. It’s much improved but only good, not excellent.

The only relevant point is that free/open and good tends to get market share while fee/closed and excellent tends to lose it - the history of computing is filled with famous examples of this principle.

If H.264 wanted to be the defacto standard for web video, it would be free, open source, regardless of use for all online/digital content.

But since they have decided not to do that, they have to accept that things like Google, WebM, Mozilla, Opera and more will look at alternatives.

Allan T: | January, 17, 2011

Stephen,

My headline does not contain the words you quoted.

So your position is that you will publish WebM only, refuse to publish H.264 on principle, and therefore exclude all of the browsers and mobile devices that won’t play WebM?

Allan T

Rob: | January, 19, 2011

I’m no expert and may have this all wrong but, it seems to me the problem is in the HTML5 VIDEO tag.

What I want as a developer is a video tag which can play most any video I want to throw at it. The browser manufacturer can then support any codec it wants natively as long as there is a way to add codecs to the browser that doesn’t require JavaScript.

As it is now the HTML5 VIDEO tag has no fall-back if it the browser doesn’t natively support the codec. The way it’s designed now the developer has to build the web page to support Flash and then, if Flash isn’t installed it can fall back to the HTML5 VIDEO.

In the end I think this is about keeping the cost of mobile devices down. Right now if you make a hardware device with an H.265 modem you’ve got to pay the license fee which may be $5million. That license fee is passed on to the buyers.

Simon Wyndham: | January, 20, 2011

The whole thing is a mess, and I’m sick and tired of it all. I want to be creating content, not worrying about learning ever more convoluted web programming techniques.

What is really needed is a site like Vimeo that has a reasonable yearly fee, but that also allows content to be used commercially. But a video hosting service that sorts out all the automatic serving of the right format to the right devices would be a good way forward. Even if I have to pay for the service.

Burn-E: | January, 20, 2011

Who cares. Android systems are nowhere near as popular as Apple’s. As for Chrome, what is it? A browser? Really? Made by whom? Google? Do I really care? I use Firefox, and it works great for me. Computer moms using Windows will likely continue using MSIE as they are doing now. No one will really notice if Chrome disappears tomorrow.

“What is really needed is a site like Vimeo that has a reasonable yearly fee, but that also allows content to be used commercially.”—YouTube allows selling your stuff on pay-per-view basis. It also shares with you advertisement income. Sure, you have to be a “partner”, presently one cannot buy partnership as one can buy Plus on Vimeo. Partnership on YouTube must be earned by number of vids and volume of traffic, I think it is fair. As for YouTube itself, I am sure it will continue to offer Flash/H.264.

If you want a sure way to monetize then sell your stuff on DVDs or BDs, the players will not burn in flames simultaneously. Also, there is a niche for amateur video streaming which is not taken yet. YouTube and Vimeo do not stream, they send out files (which you can grab and save, by the way). Netflix and Amazon use streaming, but presently they do not allow someone coming from a street to upload their videos for streaming. But the window of opportunity closes, I am sure that this year YouTube will have all the needed pay-per-view functionality for anyone who wants it.

Simon Wyndham: | January, 20, 2011

“YouTube allows selling your stuff on pay-per-view basis.”

I don’t want to sell my stuff as pay per view. I want to be able to use my video on a commercial website to sell products without the YouTube TOS which completely takes away all control over your video.

And I certainly don’t want the service I get from the provider to be dependant on the number of views. There are some really decent videos on YouTube that hardly get any views because people are more concerned about watching dancing cats or someone setting fire to their farts. I definitely do not want adverts over the top of my video.

“If you want a sure way to monetize then sell your stuff on DVDs or BDs, the players will not burn in flames simultaneously. “

I have no interest in doing that. As I said I just want to be free to use my videos in a commercial way for both my own company and also for the clients who pay me to make their videos. It is fairly clear that you have no experience of retailing DVD or BluRay. If you had you would realise that it isn’t worth doing unless you have big studio backing.

Streaming is useless. By far the majority of people in the world do not have fast broadband.

“Do I really care? I use Firefox, and it works great for me.”

Since Firefox is a bloated piece of software and many people like the speed of Chrome, along with the fact that it is made by Google, so it will get a large share of the market eventually means that you should care. If you don’t then don’t be surprised if your content only gets limited exposure. If you are older than 18, and run your own business you wouldn’t leave any stone unturned. As a business you cannot afford to turn a snobbish eye to the browsers that you do not like.

Burn-E: | January, 20, 2011

“It is fairly clear that you have no experience of retailing DVD or BluRay. If you had you would realise that it isn’t worth doing unless you have big studio backing.” - Depends on the price, but yeah if you plan to charge reasonable price of about $15 per disc, it is not worth it. On another hand, some organizations like PBS or WGBH charge for times more than that. I wanted to buy “Chicago by boat” documentary from WGBH, they want $60 for it, and it is not even on Blu-ray, while broadcast was in HD! I don’t know whether there were able to sell any.

“As a business you cannot afford to turn a snobbish eye to the browsers that you do not like.” - The way I see it, if I use someone else’s hosting like YouTube or Vimeo, it is their job to deliver video for particular platform. YouTube can send both FLV/H.264 and WebM depending on browser capabilities, so no problems here. If I host my videos myself, then I have to choose the format and the player, and this is a hard task and requires thick bandwidth for which I have to pay. Presently, I am not ready for my own video hosting. I have three accounts on Youtube, and one of them has been invited to partner program, while another is allowed for uploads without 15-minute limit. And these accounts are not even super popular. Just like eBay is the online auction site and PayPal is the online money platform, YouTube becomes (if it has not become yet) the online video distribution platform. Instead of building my own delivery platform and solving the kinks myself I am willing to wait for YouTube to offer more flexible hosting and licensing plans. I am sure the wait will not be long.

Bill Nelson: | January, 20, 2011

Open source, unencumbered WebM?  Doesn’t that codec have some pending litigation also?  These giant companies motivated by hubris make me want to reach for my roll of duct tape…

patrickortman: | January, 21, 2011

>>The whole thing is a mess, and I’m sick and tired of it all. I want to be creating content, not worrying about learning ever more convoluted web programming techniques.<<

Agreed! We’re just now getting to where video on sites isn’t a pain in the neck.

>>WebM?  Doesn’t that codec have some pending litigation also? <<

Exactly. I work in the web world every day, and to me this looks exactly like some B.S. political decision.

P

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