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Retiring Flash as the basis for digital ad creative

The time seems right to join the movement towards an HTML5 standard. Given the approximate 50 per cent penetration of Chrome in desktop and the continued growth of mobile, a move to the HTML5 standard will have a positive effect on creative performance and ensure that all creative renders as intended, whilst also avoiding the use of simple and less compelling backup GIFs. However, much work remains to be done to create consistency around the use of HTML5.

Ryan Petrich, Software engineer at Medialets explains: “Google has had success automatically converting creative on its network from Flash to HTML5, but this is somewhat hollow for agencies and advertisers—creative looks and behaves worse post-conversion, often like a photocopy of a photocopy. Creative built manually to HTML5 standards can look amazing, but is expensive to build and can have limited browser support.”

GroupM will organise its mobile community to develop an action plan to work with the MMA and other industry organisations, along with creative agency partners, to drive HTML5 standardisation so that Flash can be retired as the basis for digital ad creative.

Google goes off Flash
Flash has long been used as the go to technology for rich media advertising, but Google’s upcoming update to the Chrome browser, due to go live for September 2015, will impact the ability to serve creative built using flash. In addition, Firefox (which accounts for 10 per cent of browsers) will also block all Flash activity as a default; Safari (with a six per cent share) has a power-saving mode that has been enabled for approximately a year where it will auto-pause Flash; which leaves Internet Explorer (which accounts for 19 per cent of browsers) alone with no immediate plans to follow suit.

What will happen to Flash ads?
Flash ads will be static in the first frame of animation and will show a greyed out overlay with a play button icon, similar to video. The creative will not be able to be played. It is expected to affect approximately 100 million flash ads per day. Note that this change does not affect video ads regardless of Flash or HTML5 player. In addition, this will not affect sites built primarily in Flash.

The Chrome update only impacts desktop versions of Chrome. The goal is to decrease CPU (Central Processing Unit) usage; Chrome will assess how many flash animations are running on that page and it will ‘intelligently pause’ the non-central animations, for example banner ads.  This change doesn’t impact mobile, as Flash is not typically supported anyway.

Flash was created in the 1990s to run internet applications and runs very slowly on platforms such as Linux and Mac OSX since it doesn’t have access to GPU (Graphics Processing Unit) processing causing the application to slow down immensely. It worked well enough for a PC based world, but faces increasing challenges in a multi-platform digital environment.

The widespread adoption of mobile devices created a need for new technology to avoid issues such as overheating, battery drain and touch screen compatibility. HTML5 was developed by the W3C over a five-year period starting in 2009, with the final spec only released in October of 2014.

Team Mindshare

This article has been authored by the Digital Team of Mindshare Worldwide