Adobe Sets a 2020 Expiration Date for Flash: Now What?

This morning, Adobe announced it would cease development of Flash Player by the end of 2020, along with its roadmap for killing it off with minimal disruptions to user experience. It’s almost surprising to finally hear it from Adobe—much of the digital world has been bracing for a Flashless world for years. For a good time, Google “death of Flash” or “Flash dead.” The digital trail suggesting Flash is past its use-by date goes back seven years, easily. (I’m looking forward to the end of “death of Flash” headlines, personally—bring me to the Death of Death of Flash already!)

And yet, despite all those morbid proclamations, it’s 2017 and we’re still living with Flash. In the publisher-side ad ops world, folks are living with a heck of a lot more Flash than they’d really like. Apple, Google and Mozilla couldn’t kill it by having Flash disabled by default in Safari, Chrome and Firefox. Publishers will tell you (or anyone willing to listen to them vent for a few minutes) how creative agencies seem to be unable to break their Flash habits. If Flash is what agencies are most comfortable building in, and if agencies are more comfortable sending lightweight Flash files out into the pipes instead of those much larger HTML5 files, then Flash is what publishers will get in ad creative. If the publisher doesn’t like it, they’ll have to figure out how to deal with it—using a DIY Flash-to-HTML5 converter tool, onboarding a rich media vendor company, working alongside buy-side clients to rebuild ad files, or whatever else works.

Flash has survived for years in spite of so many influential parties’ attempts to the contrary. We saw Steve Jobs rail against Flash. We’ve seen major browsers disable Flash. We’ve seen publishers try to put the pressure on advertisers to just tear off that Band-Aid and stop building in Flash. We’ve seen Google and Mozilla seemingly try to put a pillow over Flash’s face, by ceasing development on their Flash-to-HTML5 conversion tools, Swiffy and Shumway, respectively. It had become clear enough that the only way Flash was going to die would be if Adobe itself pulled the plug.

But considering Adobe is looking at the end of 2020 as Flash’s kill-by date—that means we’re still going to have nearly three and a half more years before it’s over. To frame it another way, December 2020 is five and a half years beyond the point in 2015 when Google announced it would start pausing Flash content in Chrome! We’re in the middle of a long march to the sea, my friends.

Predicting what might happen in three years of ad tech and digital media is about as useful as a long-range weather forecast in the northeastern U.S. You’re welcome to give it a shot. But regardless, shutting down Flash will likely accelerate some of those opportunities we’ve been hearing about to take a lead in bringing the ad space up to date, and maybe to profit in the process. A lot of tech vendors have been receiving and distributing Flash creative from advertiser clients without pushing back—they haven’t had the incentive, because they’ve gotten paid one way or another. But if there’s money to be made in offering services to convert Flash files to HTML5, we might see more vendors adding that tool to their kits. Some publishers are doing this already, on their own part, and charging buy-side clients for the trouble. It’ll possibly be a brief window of time to capitalize on, though—the awareness is present now, but if Flash goes away, so will the opportunity to convert it to HTML5.

But when that happens—imagine all that HTML5 creative flowing through mobile channels, the way it’s supposed to in mobile. What will that do for ad experience, and for publishers’ ability to monetize their mobile web properties? One can dream. Hopefully it won’t take three years to get an answer.