HTML5 Advertising FAQ

Editor’s note: This article was provided by Jack Wallington, head of industry programmes, IAB UK and Lynne Hunt, head of ad operations, The Guardian. It is reposted from the IAB site with permission.

This page is a status update about the use of HTML5 in advertising from major publishers, ad networks and agencies in the UK. It will be updated regularly and should be used for information only to help companies understand the state of play with HTML5 in advertising.

This document was last updated on 17 August 2010. If you have any questions or suggestions for this page, please contact Jack Wallington, head of industry programmes, IAB or Lynne Hunt, head of ad operations, The Guardian.

What is HTML5?
HTML is the mark-up language used for the World Wide Web. Almost all web pages you visit on the internet are based around HTML code. HTML5 is simply the fifth and latest iteration of this mark-up language that allows for more dynamic, animated and interactive web pages. Up until now web pages have had to embed content or plugins like Flash for items like video players or interactive animation. HTML5 allows for lots of this functionality to be done without an embedded file. This doesn’t mean the end of Flash however because Flash too continues to evolve – it is an alternative. See more on the W3 website.

Why is HTML5 suddenly an important topic?
HTML5 has existed for some time, but recent press coverage brought about by the Apple iPhone, iPod touch and particularly the iPad’s lack of Flash support has raised interest in this area. HTML5 is therefore mostly talked about in relation to Apple’s products that don’t support Flash. However, HTML5 is a mark-up language that is intended to be used across all devices including desktop/laptop browsers (we’ll call these PCs in this document). Adoption across browsers is still in the early stage, although Safari and Chrome already support HTML5 and the release of Internet Explorer 9 is expected to support or interpret HTML5 too. Other browsers will follow. It is unlikely that there will be a standard version of HTML5 across all browsers for some time however.

What should publishers be doing with HTML5 now?
It is highly likely that most publishers have someone in their development teams already looking into HTML5 and working out what the business can do with it, but probably from a content perspective rather than focussing on advertising e.g. how it can work with video players or be used for interactive content, like galleries and charts. Advertising teams (especially ad operations) should at least speak to these individuals to be updated on own company plans, activity and to highlight the importance of considering advertising alongside. While innovation teams have been given test iPads, the IAB recommends that ad ops teams also receive industry changing devices like iPads to test and become familiar with the technology too.

The majority of publishers plan to continue to use Flash ads as normal online for the foreseeable future because:

  • Adoption of the key non-Flash enabled browsers, like Apple iOS, is currently very low, with an average range of 0.6 – 2.2% of traffic to a selection of major UK publishers. Although it is growing rapidly.
  • It will take significant business development to get HTML5 advertising up and running on PCs, which is hard to justify for the currently small audience, especially when HTML5 may continue to change.
  • The existing online advertising market is already built to show GIF files as an alternative to Flash on browsers that don’t have Flash installed.
    However, most are keeping a close eye on the adoption of HTML5 and will adjust accordingly in the future. 

What’s happening on mobile?
A number of companies and Apple themselves on their devices already offer HTML5 based advertising for mobile. Adobe is also going to lengths to further optimise Flash for mobile devices but Flash won’t work on Apple products until Apple changes its position on this. However, this topic is perhaps less of a problem on mobile devices because advertising is already created to be bespoke for the smaller screen.

Why are advertising operatives concerned about HTML5?
Unlike mobiles, the larger screened iPad displays websites at full size, making it suitable for showing standard online display advertising. But it doesn’t display Flash which means advertisers will turn to alternative solutions to create the rich, interactive experience established on PCs. Further to this, PC browser adoption of HTML5 could lead to agencies and advertisers creating adverts using HTML5 in order to run across both PCs and iPads for maximum efficiency.

What about video?
Video is the biggest area of concern at the moment because the internet is more video content driven than ever – in many ways, it is becoming as much an audio visual medium as it is a written and image led medium. However, the majority of online video players have been created in Flash. In fact, the entire online video advertising market is established in Flash. This poses big problems for browsers and devices that don’t support Flash. A number of video publishers encode their video to H.264 which can be played using HTML5. A number of large publishers like YouTube, Sky, BBC and Vimeo have begun doing this to ensure some of their video content is playable on browsers that aren’t Flash enabled. There are problems with this though, which are:

  • H.264 doesn’t allow for necessary video encryption required by some publishers, like the broadcasters – Flash does.
  • The entire video advertising technology framework is built using Flash. This makes it difficult to run video adverts like pre-roll alongside video content using HTML5.
  • The IAB’s VAST 2.0 (Video Ad Serving Template) is specifically built for Flash players. So all of the work done to make players VAST compliant may have to be reworked for HTML5 players.

What might be the affects of HTML5 and iPad like devices on advertising in the future?
Talking about the future is always speculative and never guaranteed, but we can make some educated guesses.

The iPad is unlikely to be the only tablet device in the future, and it is to be expected that an updated Apple iPad will launch in 2011. Using the iPhone 4 as a guide, many people expect the iPad 2 to have a camera for instance.

Devices connected to 3G, but running rich media ads using HTML5 or indeed Flash, may cause a conflict between slower connection speeds and larger ads. It is up to the publishers and agencies to decide on a recommended file size to prevent poor user experience.

Touch screen devices like the iPad will lead to more interactivity and a different experience because of the finger operation rather than a mouse click.

The iPad allows people to rotate the device from portrait to landscape, creating a need for two versions of an ad in some situations.

Outside of advertising, does HTML5 affect websites?
Absolutely, HTML5 is much more about updating the World Wide Web than improving just online advertising. In a vast number of ways it will influence the structure of websites and their content across all internet enabled devices. You can expect more dynamic websites that offer streamlined, more seamless online experiences (e.g. video included in the code of the page and increased interactivity). On mobile, HTML5 offers an app like experience in the mobile browser.

When will there be more updates to this page?
The IAB UK’s Display Council will update this document every 2 months, or whenever a significant development occurs in the marketplace. The IAB US has established a formal working group on this subject which will be releasing more formal recommendations in due course.