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Navigating the Flash to HTML5 Technology Transition

Written on
May 5, 2017 
Author
Michael Tuminello  |

As we have heard numerous times in the past, Flash is on the way out the door, to be replaced by HTML5. There are some of you who will hear that and say “that already happened” and others who will say “I’ve heard that before, but I’ve yet to see it.” You are both right.

At this point, the rich media ad servers are well along the path to fully retiring Flash. In fact, it is no longer possible to use Flash in some major rich media ad servers. On the video side, however, despite numerous announcements of Flash’s departure, the browser technology still clings to life. The reason for this is that a video ad is not as self-contained as a rich media ad – it needs to run in a video player. Publishers and supporting technologies like verification vendors require additional time to make the migration. At this point, most supporting technologies have made the switch, and now the spotlight is on the publishers.

Another relatively new development is that the transition now has some hard deadlines associated with it. Specifically, DoubleClick has published the following dates:

• Starting April 3rd, 2017, new Flash video ads will no longer be able to be uploaded into DoubleClick Studio, DoubleClick Campaign Manager, DoubleClick Bid Manager, DoubleClick for Publishers or AdWords.

• Starting July 3rd, 2017, Flash video ads will no longer be able to run through DoubleClick Campaign Manager, DoubleClick Bid Manager, DoubleClick Ad Exchange, DoubleClick for Publishers or AdWords. Additionally, our Active View and Verification tools for video will no longer use Flash.

The IAB has also released guidelines to help agencies and publishers make the transition (full disclosure: Innovid was a contributor to the IAB documents).

Here at Innovid, we have been supporting HTML5 VPAID ads for well over a year, and our ads have been used as test ads for some of the industry’s leading players as they made the move from Flash to HTML5. Given that and our frequent campaign collaboration with DoubleClick, we are fully aligned with the transition dates outlined above and are fully compatible today, assuming publishers are able to support HTML5 VPAID.

We do have some tips to help advertisers, agencies and others with any technology transition.

1) Whether you are on the buy side or the sell side, keep in mind that you may lose capabilities when moving from Flash VPAID to HTML VPAID, depending on available support for integrated technologies. For example, functionalities like viewability and in-unit surveys that are well established in Flash may not yet be fully supported in HTML. You should verify that any necessary functionality is in place before making the switch.

2) Speaking of viewability, there is also somewhat of a misconception about HTML VPAID viewability – although agencies and advertisers have been taught that VPAID and viewability/verification are more or less synonymous, for in-app inventory this is frequently not the case. In-app environments (whether OTT or mobile) do not lend themselves to third-party code execution. As such, the industry is currently pursuing an open-source SDK model for verification, introduced by IAS and now managed by the IAB. A very similar may be present in the SSAI (server-side ad insertion) model increasingly favored by broadcasters.

3) Another point worth mentioning – despite Flash’s status as the plugin everyone loves to hate, it does have the advantage of being a single technology that renders identically across browsers and remains sandboxed inside the plugin instance in the page. HTML rendering can change from one browser or browser version to another and also can more readily impact other elements within the browser. What this means is that publishers and ad vendors will likely need to do more testing, and everyone needs to be aware of supported browsers and browser versions as well as the rest of the specs.

4) While it may be inevitable for some, publishers should think twice about implementing support for hybrid tags rather than accepting a separate Flash and HTML VPAID tag. Widespread hybrid tag adoption will make it harder to completely eliminate Flash. Google has stated that they will not accept any Flash, including hybrid tags, from July 3 onwards, so that is likely to limit the longevity of the hybrid tag. At Innovid, we will (as always) support whatever publishers require for the sake of our agency and advertiser partners, but we also believe that it is in the best interest of the industry as a whole to make decisions that push the ecosystem toward consolidation of one technology base (HTML rather than Flash).

5) To help with the transition process, Innovid would like to make a tool available to publishers. An Innovid HTML5 VPAID test tag is available at the link below, and can be used by any publisher to test their existing player or during the process of building a new HTML5-compatible player.

For more information about how Innovid is helping publishers transition away from Flash and to access an HTML VPAID test tag, visit our recent blog post about the topic.

Good luck to all of us during the transition!
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Michael Tuminello is VP of Solutions and Partnerships at Innovid, working with clients, partners, and industry trade groups to help pioneer a new generation of video and TV marketing. He previously managed the development of rich media creative formats and authoring tools at Mediamind (now Sizmek) and Unicast, where he also managed the development of the ad server. Earlier experiences include design and development of an specialized IM client for Wimba (now part of education giant Blackboard), several years of hands-on experience as a multimedia designer and programmer, a few years playing in a band in NYC, and a stint teaching English in Japan.

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