Brightcove Sidestepping Lack of Flash Support on Apple iPad

Back in February I interviewed Jeff Whatcott, senior vice president of marketing at Cambridge, MA-based Brightcove, about the online video hosting company’s attempts to help its customers deliver video to as many Internet-connected devices as possible. At the time, the company was announcing software that will allow its customers to serve videos stored on its platform to Flash-compatible mobile phones. But Whatcott hinted that Brightcove was also working on ways to get video to non-Flash devices, including iPhones and iPads.

Now it’s official. Brightcove today announced a new software feature, “Brightcove Experience for HTML5,” that will allow companies who use Brightcove’s platform to encode video in the H.264 format required by Apple’s iPad, iPhone, and iPod Touch. Brightcove says the New York Times and Time Inc. are already modifying their websites so that readers who visit using their Apple iPads (which hit stores this Saturday) will be able to watch the videos embedded in the sites, rather than simply seeing the now-familiar “Missing Flash plugin” icon.

missing-flash-icon“The Brightcove Experience for HTML5 fills the gap between the current playback capabilities of the emerging standard and what our customers need to operate successful online video businesses,” Brightcove CEO Jeremy Allaire said in a statement.

It wasn’t quite clear whether Allaire was referring to Flash or H.264 as the “emerging standard.” In any case, the announcement reflects Brightcove’s recent strategy of searching for neutral ground in the escalating Internet video wars.

That battle pits partisans of Adobe’s Flash—the format used by Hulu, Disney, JibJab, and thousands of other media and game publishers—against proponents of HTML5, a next-generation version of the Web markup language that is expected to make it easier for Web publishers to offer video in multiple formats, including non-proprietary formats like H.264, also known as MPEG-4.

Given that the Brightcove platform was originally built around Flash—a format that Allaire helped to create at Macromedia, which Adobe acquired in 2005—Brightcove has long been seen as part of the Flash contingent. But Whatcott told me last month that the company has “no platform leanings” and that its first priority is to help customers distribute video as widely as possible. “To this point, Flash has been a great horse to ride, but now there are emerging pockets where we can’t ride that horse,” Whatcott said.

HTML5 videos served up over the Brightcove platform won’t come with all the same bells and whistles as their Flash counterparts. For now, the job of the new “Brightcove Experience for HTML5” code is simply to detect whether a user is connecting from an HTML5-compatible device, then play back H.264 videos. The software can also show playlists—thumbnail renderings of related videos. But publishers can’t yet use it to create custom-branded players, compile audience analytics, provide viewers with social-media sharing options, or—crucially—serve up advertising.

All of those are standard features of the Flash version of the Brightcove player, but they’re “not very easy to do with H.264 and HTML5,” Whatcott told me. The company said today it expects to add those capabilities “over the course of this year.” Brightcove might need to move a bit faster, though, to keep up with competitors like Mountain View, CA-based Ooyala, which announced last week that its own video publishing platform, which includes advertising and analytics capabilities, will support H.264 video delivery to iPads and iPhones starting April 3.

Wade Roush is a contributing editor at Xconomy. Follow @wroush

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