Web publishing system supplier thePlatform has implemented software fixes that promise to free publishers from constraints imposed by the incomplete HTML5 standard while allowing them to benefit from a browser-based approach to video rendering that greatly simplifies execution of video-centric business models. Such steps are crucial to making HTML5 the linchpin to multiscreen service at a moment when players spending big money in this arena need to lock into a foundation that will allow them to scale their services and remain competitive over time.
There are a lot of moving parts that have to be addressed to enable a TV-caliber multiscreen service, including “getting the video in the right format, making sure the metadata is there so people can find the content,” says Marty Roberts, senior vice president of sales and marketing at thePlatform. “But ultimately it comes down to what does that video player experience look like, how does it render, does my video look good in that PC, in that browser, in that tablet, on that smart TV?”
HTML5 is designed to facilitate creation of Web pages with rich media elements that will render universally, regardless of browser and device types. Where video is concerned, the idea was that a standardized multimedia-friendly environment would allow browsers to play back video natively within a Web page without requiring plug-ins like Flash, QuickTime and Silverlight.
But the World Wide Web Consortium (WC3), the HTML standardizing body, was unable to agree on a universal codec for HTML5. Consequently a browser will only play the video from the page if it can implement the relevant codec, and, as it turns out, different browser suppliers have chosen to support different varieties of codecs, so that, for example, Firefox won’t play H.264 and Apple’s Safari will only play H.264.
But, for all these hassles, HTML5 has penetrated widely owing to its success at rendering the container or skin of a video as it was meant to be, regardless of which browser is accessing a page. “The first thing to think about when you’re looking at a video player is what we would call the skin,” Roberts says. “Are the corners round or boxed? Are the lines fat or thin? Is the play button big or small? The good news here is HTML5 actually does a really good job of drawing out that skin using standards like CSS (Cascading Style Sheets) and HTML It really lowers the bar in terms of the type of developer that can come in and create a very compelling video player skin.”
Now, as part of thePlatform’s mpx Web publishing system, the company has automated all the processes needed to ensure that the video always plays back in HTML5 regardless of which browser an end user may be coming in on. Content distributors can be assured the HTML5 video player always matches the end user’s browser and device parameters.
“The only way we have been able to do that is with a lot of testing,” Roberts says. “Now we can look at the different devices, look at the different browsers users have on the devices, look at the different native video players that are there and then make a smart choice about which video I’m going to display.”
All of this is done by the mpx system in real time, he says, adding, “In a Chrome browser I might use a standard MPEG4 file; in a Firefox browser I might use a Flash video. On an Xbox I could display Silverlight. So there are all kinds of different decisions we make about what the video region has and how to best display that video for that user on that device in that browser.”
In addition, thePlatform has addressed another drawback to HTML5, which is the fact that provisions have not yet been made in the standard for slotting advertising other than as pre-rolls in the playback. This is crucial in the TV Everywhere domain where advertising is now starting to matter, Roberts notes.
“TVE traditionally was just an add-on and a benefit to my subscription fee,” he says. “But now it’s also becoming a benefit for advertisers.
“It’s actually one of the things we’re solving with our new HTML5 video players,” he continues. “Traditionally, you couldn’t solve dynamic mid-roll advertising. If I wanted to insert an ad six minutes in at that first chapter break point, it just wasn’t possible to do that client side. You had to go all the way back to the transcoder and stitch it in, doing all these back flips to make it work.” On mpx, he says, publishers can “dynamically insert ads throughout a video stream based on the chapter points just like we’re doing with VOD and Flash-based video today.”