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Ad Intelligence 101 |


Final Nails in the Flash Coffin and the Rapid Rise of HTML5 Ads

November 14 2016 by Jordan Kramer
It’s been just over a year since Google Chrome, which represents over half of desktop internet users, sent the digital advertising world into a tailspin by automatically pausing web ads that used Flash in its browser. The clunky effects of Flash - more time to load, plugins necessary to download, security risks - was something everyone came across in their browser. So much so that at the time of the switch, an estimated 90% of rich media ads being served across devices were Flash. Google had made the announcement months prior, but still, it wasn’t until the actual cut-off of Flash autoplay on September 1st that the digital advertising world responded. 
Pathmatics was the first advertising intelligence tool on the market to capture HTML5 ads, which was reported to be the new standard of digital advertising by IAB. It is crucial for our platform to capture new ad types so that our agile clients are always working with the most accurate, real-time data. This allows us to dive deep under the hood to examine just how much HTML5 has taken off, and look back to how this change exactly came about.


The Glory Days of Flash

When the first working draft of HTML5 first came out in 2008 as a response to Flash, it had a slow adoption and wasn’t immediately well received by the whole community. Flash didn’t exactly have the best reputation either, but it was the norm at the time and people were used to it. Advertisers wanted to put videos and animated creatives in the sidebars of your browser, and consumers just had to deal with the consequences in their user experience. To switch from Flash technology to HTML5 formatting required more education, and more staff to navigate the changes. This costly roadblock meant the Flash ads kept coming. While some publishers did adopt HTML5 early on, it was an option - not the standard. Adobe, the creator of Flash, was one of the few browsers that blocked Flash early on, but it was not enough of a deterrent to advertisers due to a lack of browser popularity.

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Flash Starts Pushing Up Daisies

Fast forward to the beginning of 2015 when YouTube dropped Flash in favor of HTML5. This resulted in a quick dip in the usage of Flash ads, and an increase of image ads. Flash began to rebound in February, only to begin a gradual decline in usage, giving share to image ads. Ad operations departments were scrambling in trying to figure out how to properly serve campaigns, while dealing with the new technologies. The answer was to put out static image creatives until those departments could get a handle on HTML5. In June, Google released a statement that as early as September, its Chrome browser would turn off support for Flash. Shortly thereafter on August 17th, the IAB came out stating that HTML5 would be the new standard in interactive marketing and urged the community to start adopting the technology.
August 27th: The day Google announced it would begin pausing Flash ads on September 1st. As in, five days later. Cue the industry wide freak-out that most creatives were about to get a distracting play button glued on top instead of auto-playing…that is, unless they were HTML5 creatives! Immediately, the market responded and by November the new format was just as frequently seen as image based ads were before the switch.

Back to the HTML5 Future

For Q2 of 2016, HTML5 represented 66.3% of the total combined desktop/display and mobile creatives. Flash hovered around 1-3% on desktop but eventually dropped off by Q3 of this year, while Image ads have bounced back. Q3 saw a slight dip in HTML5 usage, dropping down to 59% combined on desktop and mobile, giving share to more Image ads. The two formats appear to be leveling out to split impression share. The biggest cause for the drop in HTML5 overall was a decline on desktop. In Q2, 68.4% of desktop/display creatives were HTML5, compared to 59.7% in Q3. Mobile numbers stayed steady quarter-over-quarter, dropping a percentage from 58% in Q2 to 56.9% in Q3.
What does this mean for your teams? In December, Google will make HTML5 the default option for your ads and in 2017, Google will stop serving Flash ads from their display network. The new Safari 10 browser, Sierra, also just blocked Flash and made HTML5 the default. Know that HTML5 is here to stay, but that Image ads are still a big player in the landscape. You can bet that your competitor's are ramping up to invest in HTML5 education and staffing to better use this media type to their advantage. We will see if occurances level off in the coming months, or if increased education and sophistication pushes HTML5 in an upwards direction. 

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About Author
Jordan Kramer

An out-of-the-box thinker with a love for disruptive ideas, Jordan's background spans PR and events for the wedding & hospitality industry in Los Angeles and Scottsdale and also launching one of America's most unique food trucks. She jumped from the food start-up scene to the tech start-up scene in 2013 to join one of the most unique companies in ad tech. Jordan is a graduate of the University of California, Santa Barbara with a Bachelor of Arts in Communication.

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