UK-based video-rental and streaming company LoveFilm has announced it will ditch Flash. But instead of working with HTML5, its new system will be based on Silverlight. According to a blog post, LoveFilm was 'asked' to make this change by studios and said that "without meeting their requirements, we'd suddenly have next-to-no films to stream online". The change means Linux and PPC Mac users will now have no access to the service; also, while HTML5 was considered, LoveFilm had to pass on the technology because "there are simply no security protections available within HTML5 that would allow us to stream content securely".
Musician and producer Elliott Fienberg told .net that the situation was a "good example of how traditional media is constantly at odds with new technology". He continued: "Bigger media companies are not comfortable using HTML5 technology, and the W3C shouldn't overlook this imminent need. These security issues are also a concern for many independent artists, not just larger companies," adding that while it would be nice to have a world where creators loosen such tight control over their content, "it just isn't reality".
HTML5 video not ready for prime-time
We also asked Rich Shupe, CTO of full-service digital development and training company FMA NY, about the LoveFilm situation. He told us HTML5 is simply not viable, in terms of online streaming video, for numerous reasons: "There's no usable DRM in place, nor an adequate adaptive streaming solution – required for services like LoveFilm and Netflix because client available-bandwidth often changes dramatically while streaming. There's no buffering or stream-reconnect option – features that are beneficial for addressing changes to bandwidth/connectivity."
He added that the nascent nature of the technology made it unsuitable in other ways too: the lack of a widely available hardware-acceleration option; no consistent, true full-screen playback option; issues in leaving the choice of video codecs up to browser manufacturers; and site-usage stats showing HTML5 can only be used by about half the computers in the world.
According to Shupe, Flash deals with all of these problems, and so it "confuses me why most of today's critics of the platform advocate moving away from the technology – simply because there doesn't seem to be anything else better at the moment". And while LoveFilm claims Silverlight's 'Smooth Streaming' technology (essentially dynamic quality adjustment based on an internet connection) is another reason for the switch, Shupe questioned the decision in terms of the wider market: "Silverlight penetration is vastly smaller than Flash, and Microsoft, at least previously, made clear that its Silverlight focus has shifted to mobile app development. All I see from the move to Silverlight is a reduction in compatible installed user base."
Marc Peter, creative director at on-IDLE was also dubious about the decision: "HTML5 is too new to offer robust rights management which is clearly a problem for studios. Flash, however, is proven and secure. Silverlight's impact has, to say the least, been limited despite the fanfare and Microsoft's millions. Perhaps Microsoft's millions are at play in studios forcing video content servers to use Silverlight as a way to boost the market penetration of the player?"