Brightcove Announces iPad-Friendly HTML5 Video Support

Today, Brightcove announced the Brightcove Experience for HTML5, which extends their current largely Flash-based platform to HTML5. The free update is designed to meet the short-term demand for an iPad-compatible site, and the press release states that “customers are using the Brightcove Experience for HTML5 today to build iPad-ready websites.” The company also presented a roadmap of new features that would provide “full support for customization and branding of the player environment, advertising, analytics, social sharing, and other capabilities currently found in Brightcove experience solutions for other platforms.”

Beyond these press release basics, I was curious as to what the new service offered, what it didn’t, and when it would reach full parity with Brightcove’s Flash-based offerings. The company was kind enough to allow me to speak at length with president and COO David Mendels at length. What I found interesting was how focused the current demand for HTML5 was among the Brightcove user base (can you say "iPad," boys and girls?), as well as the challenges facing HTML5 as it struggles to displace Flash in the market.

David Mendels
Brightcove President and COO David Mendels

Though Mendels felt that HTML5 and Flash would coexist for a very long time, he also predicts that most of Flash’s critical video-playback related features will become part of HTML5 over time. I should note that Mendels was an executive vice president and general manager at Macromedia, where he directly managed the Flash and Flex product lines, though he assured me that his feelings towards both Flash and HTML5 were more pragmatic than religious.

What’s In the New Service?
I started by asking why Brightcove introduced the new product—a softball question, but you have to start somewhere. Mendels responded that Apple has been very successful in promoting the iPad, and that creating an iPad-compatible HTML5 site has been a significant “pain point” for many of Brightcove’s media and publishing customers. He estimated that in addition to the New York Times (a Brightcove investor) and Time, “dozens” of iPad targeted web properties powered by the new service will open in the first quarter after the iPad launch.

If it was such a significant pain point, I mused out loud, why not charge for the new service? Mendels responded that Brightcove’s core value proposition was to provide their customers with a complete platform for publishing video, and that they didn’t want to charge more to deliver to a different set of customers. He felt that the demand created by the iPad was a real opportunity for Brightcove to make video delivery transparent so that “every media company doesn’t have to become a software company.” I then asked why the company chose not to support Ogg Theora, which was notably present in open source competitor Kaltura’s HTML5 offering. Mendels responded that “there wasn’t a market need to support Ogg Theora in the short term. It is certainly something we will consider for the long term.” He was quick to point out, however, that Firefox visitors to their customer’s sites wouldn’t go away unhappy; they’d simply fall back to playing the file via the Flash Player.

You Want it When?
We next focused on features of Brightcove’s Flash-based product that weren’t in the initial HTML5 product offering. For example, at launch, the initial product will offer single-bitrate HTTP streaming via progressive download, with support for Apple’s HTTP Live streaming, including adaptive bitrate support, within three months. Some analytics and advertising network integration were also on the roadmap for the first three months, with complete analytics and more comprehensive ad network support and engagement features available within nine months. Mendels pointed out that one of the benefits of working in a closed system like the iPad was that Brightcove could start by supporting a single browser and video specification and still present a complete solution. Over time, they can also address other browsers and codecs like Ogg Theora and Firefox, but right now Mobile Safari is the only browser supported on the iPad.

According to Mendels, more general solutions for HTML5-based adaptive streaming would take much longer. He noted that Brightcove was tracking both Akamai’s and Adobe’s HTTP-based adaptive streaming technologies, but that Brightcove’s implementation would depend upon how the HTML5 standards group, and the supporting browsers, decide to handle adaptive streaming.

The story was similar for digital rights management (DRM). Mendels said that he couldn’t offer a road map for DRM because the “ecosystem around this doesn’t yet exist.” He identified DRM as one area in particular where Flash will be difficult to replace in the short term, but felt certain that some workable solutions would ultimately coalesce.

According to Mendels, another solution that won’t be available in the short term is complete integration with existing advertising networks, since that takes multiple parties, including the browser vendors and advertising networks, to pull together. Mendels also pointed out that there were security concerns anytime you pulled data from a third-party server, including advertising networks. He stated that “Flash ecosystem has this nailed,” while HTML5 doesn’t yet have a complete solution in place.

Looking forward, Mendels predicated that over time, online video platforms like Brightcove will duplicate most of Flash’s video playback-related functionality, though it “wasn’t trivial and would take years.” At the same time, though, he felt that Flash would also be evolving, and that there were many Flash-related functions, like gaming, where HTML5 would likely never replace Flash.

He identified Flash 10.1 as a very significant release that, via GPU acceleration, greatly reduced the CPU horsepower required to playback Flash video on Windows computers and many compatible devices, including Android compatible mobile phones. Mendels concluded by stating that Brighcove would continue to make “video playback great on both standards.”

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