Are you worried about the end of Flash video?

By announcing their end-of-life plan to no longer support or maintain Flash by the end of 2020, Adobe has effectively ended an era of enterprise video applications relying on Flash players. We all knew Flash had some problems but it was still surprising to hear about the end, given the reach and familiarity of this web tool.

Having worked in the web video business for several years, I don’t think you can discount the impact deprecating Flash will have. At this point, let’s take the opportunity to pause, reflect on how we got here and think about what will happen to all the video applications that currently depend on Flash.

A Brief History of Flash

In the “olden days” of the Internet, prior to the introduction of Flash, we had text and static images. For video, we had to download a file and then play it in an installed application. The Web consisted of flat, motionless information. It was boring.

Flash fixed that by bringing interactivity, games, animation, video, and annoying banner ads. It solved a lot of the problems with the static Web and empowered the development of the interactive web applications we are familiar with today.

Why Flash Video?

What really enabled real-time live video on the Internet was a protocol initially developed by Macromedia called RTMP which was later incorporated into Flash. RTMP is a TCP-based protocol which can maintain low-latency between a server and a client/player.

Using RTMP and Flash we could see live video in our browsers for the first time and, as a bonus, it also worked well for VoD. There were even extensions that supported multicast and multiple compatible player technologies that offered various UI components and fancy controls. With RTMP, we could get near real-time live video of good quality in an interactive web application. The video portal was born.

What Happened Then?

The Web has continued to evolve and add more interactivity. Open standards like HTML5 and WebGL have found their way into actual browser functionality. These browsers are now all in different phases of dropping or phasing out Flash.

Most of the IT teams I interact with are also interested in dumping Flash due to security concerns and the overhead it incurs with the constant patching that goes along with it. Maintaining Flash in the enterprise has become a security liability and a major hassle. Also, mobile devices never adopted Flash, so the industry moved to new HTTP-based delivery formats like HLS.

Where Are We Now?

It’s complicated. The bad news is that the transformation away from Flash video is not complete. The HTML5 <video> tag, for example, doesn’t support live streaming. HTTP streaming formats like HLS, MPEG-DASH, and Smooth Stream don’t support HTML5 one hundred percent. There are MSE browser extensions that allow JavaScript to decode HTTP-based streams and play them in the HTML5 <video> tag, but these aren’t universally supported in all browsers.

What Will We Do?

On the one hand, I can’t understate how much of the Web, and especially video applications, were built on Flash. There are also many millions of dollars’ worth of video infrastructure like encoders and servers deployed throughout the video-savvy enterprises of the world that are dependent on Flash as well as terabytes of RTMP VoD.

That said, there are options for solving this with software. For starters, many player technology stacks take RTMP and render it as HLS in the browser; this will help bridge the gap on the playback side. In addition, many portal vendors have switched or are switching to the new delivery formats like HLS and MPEG-Dash. Several of these portal vendors including Microsoft with Skype Meeting Broadcast, Office 365 video, and Stream are already integrated with Kollective for delivery within the firewall.

Kollective’s software defined delivery technology has you covered since our SD ECDN supports peer-assisted delivery of these newer video formats. So, while it’s big deal that Flash is going away, don’t worry, there are other technologies that can and will fill the void, and you can always trust Kollective to guide you through the transition.

By Ben Larson, Pre-Sales Engineer at Kollective

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