BBC: HTML5 Is Not Ready For Video And Sailing Off-Course

Steve Jobs may be betting the upcoming fifth revision to the web’s HTML language will fill iOS’ Flash gap, but the BBC doesn’t think that prospect is going to happen any time soon.

The corporation’s future media and technology director Erik Huggers writes: “The fact is that there’s still a lot of work to be done on HTML5 before we can integrate it fully into our products. As things stand, I have concerns about HTML5’s ability to deliver on the vision of a single open browser standard which goes beyond the whole debate around video playback.”

The World Web Web Consortium (W3C) released the latest working draft of the HTML5 spec Thursday of the revision, which is being edited by a Googler and which will include native video support, obviating the need for plugins, as well as other enhancements.

But Huggers writes: “HTML5 is starting to sail off-course. Not too long ago, some browser vendors were showcasing proprietary HTML5 implementations; which in my view threaten to undermine the fundamental promise.”

He said “recent activity in the HTML5 Working Group, the apparent split between W3C and WhatWG”, and the fact Microsoft (NSDQ: MSFT) hasn’t yet released its HTML5-supporting browser indicate “tension between individual motivation and collective consensus“. He asks them “to continue fervently on the path you began”; “we are counting on you to bring one HTML5 to the web and the W3C to help make this happen”.

The BBC is invested in a long-standing strategic relationship signed with Adobe late in 2007, allowing it to move its media delivery away from RealMedia to Flash. So it’s Flash on which one of the world’s most popular VOD services is now built – BBC iPlayer served 100.2 million online requests in June.

But Huggers denies this “betrays our commitment to open standards”: “Our use of Flash is not a case of BBC favouritism, rather it currently happens to be the most efficient way to deliver a high quality experience to the broadest possible audience.”

On that point, even Google’s YouTube agrees, saying recently (perhaps to Google’s chagrin) that HTML5 is not yet ready for video prime-time.

Indeed, clever coding means the BBC delivers iPhone/mobile web and iPad web versions of iPlayer video through those devices’ native video players like QuickTime (NYSE: TWX), without needing Flash.

It’s ironic that, when Huggers’ predecessor debuted iPlayer in 2007 as a Windows-only desktop app, angry campaigners demanded the Beeb launch a Flash web version.

Other media operators like Absolute Radio have been more eager, already rewriting parts of their site in HTML5 to deliver embedded video.

Huggers told paidContent:UK in May: “I can guarantee you that, in the labs, there