Potential Rise of HTML5 Highlights Streaming Media East

This year’s Streaming Media East show was dominated by talk of the seemingly inevitable rise of HTML5 as well as the need to deliver video to multiple devices without having to encode for each individually. Other highlights — both on the exhibit floor and in the conference rooms at the New York Hilton this week — included the proliferation of over-the-top boxes and Internet-enabled game consoles and TVs, production and distribution techniques for live streaming, and the latest strategies for catering your video to mobile devices and tablets.

However, with an entire track of the conference devoted to it, the topic that seemed to pique the most interest was HTML5. As the latest proposed version of the language used to construct Web pages, many online-video producers see HTML5 as a true game-changer. However, the final specification, which could potentially allow programmers to stream and display video using just a few lines of code rather than proprietary plug-in–based video players, has yet to be fully fleshed out and remains in development.

“At this point in time in terms of , it’s time to call a vote. Decide what [the standard] is, and then everyone will follow it,” said MLB.com SVP Joe Inzerillo during an HTML5-focused panel that closed out the show. “Video has been the most hotly contested aspect [of the HTML5 specification]. If it can’t be a standard where you can do video in 15 different ways, then it’s never going to gain traction because everyone is going to be optimizing for different things. We have to just take a vote and stick with it.”

Currently, a Mountain of Limitations
The current incarnation of the HTML5 specification remains extremely limited when it comes to video and is a far cry from the capabilities of proprietary video players like Adobe Flash and Microsoft Silverlight, which allow more-complex video experiences. However, Apple has refused to allow Flash on its iOS mobile operating system, which powers the rapidly growing iPhone and iPad devices, opening the door for HTML5 to forge ahead.

“Right now, there is no question that, in the implementation of the playback side, HTML5 is much more limited than what you can do with Flash,” said Inzerillo. “For example, on our Flash app, which is not on the iOS because it’s not quite ready yet (it will be there later this year), we actually show Pitchtrax for the ball with the release point, velocity, trajectory, etc. and overlay it in sync with the video. That’s the type of compelling stuff that you can do in Flash but you can’t do in HTML5 right now but need to be able to do in the future.”

Adobe Flash Not Dead Yet
At this point, the mass adoption of HTML5 is a matter not of if but of when. Following in the footsteps of the iPhone and iPad, the mobile and tablet markets have already begun to build HTML5-based devices and applications on a massive scale. So the question is, when will HTML5 officially overtake Flash as the dominant video-playback vehicle for online video?

“Right now, if you talk about the iPhone, it’s already done. Android’s Honeycomb [operating system] is now supporting it inside of their SDK [software development kit], and Microsoft supports it on Xbox,” said Inzerillo. “But it all depends on what Adobe does … and I don’t think [Flash] will go away in the foreseeable future. You’re always going to have some percentage of it.”

Video on the Desktop Becoming Marginalized
Over the past half decade, the video experience has changed dramatically as consumers watch more and more of their video via mobile, tablets, and Internet-connected devices.

According to Inzerillo, 40% of MLB’s content (overall content, not just video) is now consumed wirelessly, and he expects that number to reach 50% this year or next year. In addition, 30% of MLB’s premium video, including its subscription-based services like MLB.tv and MLB At Bat, is consumed on a mobile or connected device.

“I think this shows that the desktop is becoming more and more marginalized,” he said. “People are ready to access it on other devices. When you add [tablet viewing] into that mobile category, it already puts us over 50%. People’s habits are changing. Winning the desktop is not necessarily where it’s at. In our minds, winning the mobile and connected-device areas is the key.”

HTML5’s Effect of the Sports Market
Thanks to the efforts of MLB Advanced Media, MLB has consistently stayed ahead of the curve in the rapidly changing world of live sports streaming and remains a trailblazer in the trek toward HTML5. The question now is how fast other leagues and sports entities will catch up to MLBAM and whether HTML5 will play a factor in their strategy.

“We’re a little bit unique because we’re the advanced-media division and we were spun off specifically to monetize these rights. We’re just much more aggressive on the technology side than other leagues,” said Inzerillo. “It’s not that these guys don’t want the same thing; they’re just not as focused on building the tech as we are. All we have are these digital rights, so we know we have to make it happen.”