Most everyone involved in digital advertising is aware that, on September 1, 2015, Google Chrome began blocking flash-based advertising on its browser. Not all Flash, mind you, just content in the margins not considered the focus of the page; central content (like a video) will continue to play without interruption. And not blocking actually, just pausing by default. This means that only the static default image always loaded with a Flash file will be displayed. Flash ads will still be able to play in Google Chrome, but only after users have clicked on them to allow them to play. This is very similar to what Apple does in Safari: Flash is blocked from auto-playing content, and a “power saving” button requires a click to activate the animation. Naturally, advertisers are not happy about this, as it means they have to hope that users will voluntarily choose to play their ads. Advertisers and the digital media industry are beginning to worry about the prospect that people might eventually be able to block internet ads completely. Apple is working to make it easier for its users to do so on mobile devices, where battery life and data usage limits are impacted in a way that desktop computers are not.
Mozilla’s Firefox has also taken steps to block Flash auto-play and Amazon will no longer even accept Flash-based advertising. The main reasons are the increases in page-loading times, the reduced battery life and, most alarmingly, the lack of Adobe’s ability to keep the software and plug-ins secure. The rise of malware remotely inserting malicious code delivered via compromised Flash files set to auto-play upon loading, has allowed hackers to retrieve personal information, monitor keystrokes and steal passwords.
It’s no secret that digital technology and media companies’ revenues come from ads. Anything that might cause users not to view the ads or click on them would undoubtedly affect their financial bottom line. The move by these tech giants shows the extent to which these companies view the problem as a serious one.
A recent report by ad management technology firm, Sizmek, claimed that advertisers tried to deliver more than 5.35 billion Flash ads in Q1 2015 versus 4.25 billion HTML5 ads. And according to data collected by Sizmek, Google Chrome displayed over a third of these Flash ads during the quarter. As of September 1, those billion+ Flash ads viewed with Google Chrome’s browsers will now end up defaulting to static images. The move to block Flash by Google and many others will likely persuade advertisers to stop using Flash technology altogether.
Both Google and the IAB (Interactive Advertising Bureau) suggest HTML5 technology as an alternative. Sizmek has been actively promoting HTML5 technology to its users to prepare them for the inevitable change and has even provided online training seminars for designers and programmers on how to create HTML5 ads.
HTML5 provides similar functionality as Flash, but with more security and efficient performance. Besides this, HTML5 ads have the added benefit of being able to cross platforms – running on both desktop computers and mobile devices. The efficiency expert in me loves this. With most of our clients leaning more and more heavily on animated digital ads, this meant in the past that Flash ads had to be created for desktop advertising and animated gifs or simply static files with limited messaging had to be created separately for mobile. (Adobe Flash is not compatible with touch screens and can cause overheating.) Now the same ads with the same full impact and messaging can be served to both platforms. Creating two sets of ads with different specs meant double the amount of work for the design team – if not more – with trying to figure out how to get the same amount of branding and messaging into the more limiting format of a gif or jpg file.
Another plus for abandoning Flash for HTML5 is that no plug-ins (requiring constant updates – mostly to patch up the latest security breach…) are needed to play HTML5 files. Users have long been frustrated by the continual requirement to repeatedly download and install plug-in updates before being able to view a video they’ve clicked on – updates that usually end up taking longer than the video the user was trying to watch. This is one thing that won’t be missed by anybody with the demise of Flash.