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2015-10-30 09:09

Is Flash on its way out?

For many years nobody believed that Flash would ever have to step down. Even the warning signs were often met with silence. But technological advances and rising user expectations mean that the legend is now in its final hours. What are the reasons for this and what consequences does this event have for users and advertisers? Krzysztof Łada, head of the agency relations team at Gemius' Polish branch, shares his thoughts.

It's hard to believe that a product accompanying users since the beginning of the internet is on its way out. Unfortunately, the rumours of the popular technology's death have not been exaggerated. In fact, Flash has been generating problems that nobody in the 21st century wants (or needs) to contend with. Two problems have played a key role here – the huge gaps in browser and operating system security and the strain on the devices’ memory, often causing hardware problems. The famous Hacking Team data leak confirmed that it was gaps in Flash technology that made malware attacks and spying on users possible. So it seems, despite the fact that the end is in sight for a plugin that is part of internet history,  the future will be better and safer for everyone. However, there is no way to avoid the inconveniences caused by the change.

It began with Jobs

Steve Jobs dealt the first blow to Flash by not admitting it onto the iOS platform because he deemed it inefficient and dangerous. At the time, few took seriously the possibility of the actual withdrawal of the most popular technology for supporting apps on any platform. Of course, this was not counting iOS, which was then functioning as iPhone OS, a niche that posed little threat to Adobe. Over time, however, the number of platforms not supporting Flash grew exponentially, which – in combination with the frequent reports of numerous security vulnerabilities – prompted browser suppliers to carefully consider limiting users' access to Flash (or rather, Flash's access to users).

Flash – hibernate or deactivate?

There are various solutions. From disabling elements of Flash and reactivating at the express request of the user, to the deactivation of the elements supported by Flash, which then need to be activated at each session. Both solutions are unacceptable from the point of view of advertisers who, as a result, lose the ability to reach their advertising audiences…

HTML has its pros and cons

The solution is HTML5. This technology is available, just as Flash once was, for virtually all operating systems and browsers. Apart from a few exceptions, the technology is universal. It seems like the perfect solution, but there are certain disadvantages.

The first downside is people. Through years of domination, Flash managed to educate a multitude of specialists who are now forced by the situation to retrain to some extent. This, as you might guess, is not easy and will not happen overnight. There are still relatively few professional HTML5 developers, which often results in a number of errors being made in preparing creations. These errors cause problems later on with emissions or measurements. Like any scarce commodity, the HTML5 programmer's work will for some time to come be more expensive than the work of their colleagues programming in Flash, but the situation will even out over time.

The second downside is weight. Unfortunately, in this respect Flash is much more efficient, which in effect can even mean advertising creations a few dozen percent heavier – this can translate directly into higher emission costs. But this is not such a significant component of total advertising spending as to warrant talk of a major change.

Traffic from browsers that don't support Flash is growing

The question is, how important is this phenomenon? Data from Gemius shows that we are constantly seeing an increase in traffic from browsers not supporting Flash. At the beginning of the year this was around 15 per cent of views generated by internet users (source: gemiusTraffic). It's now 22 per cent of views. This means that more than one in five potential contacts with an ad are not realized due to the limitations of Flash technology. It is this situation that forced ad server service providers to ensure an alternative in the form of full support for HTML5 technology.

The tool for monitoring and testing the effectiveness of a campaign, delivered by Gemius, has for a long time fully supported creations prepared in HTML5, ensuring simple implementation and full measurement of effectiveness. The highest quality and compliance with global standards have recently been confirmed by leading global publishers such as Google and YouTube, who recognized gemiusDirectEffect with the certificate of conformity and placed the company on their list of tested partners.

Blocking Flash has no effect on browser popularity

There is no observable effect of blocking Flash in particular browsers on their market share, either worldwide or in Poland, which can be interpreted as an indication that the plugin is not of such importance for users that the lack of support for that technology would convince them to change browsers.

Publishers already have the solution

From the point of view of major publishers these changes also seem to be running smoothly – they have been providing users who don't have Flash support with access to their services for a long time; as a result, disabling this functionality at browser level is virtually unnoticeable to the final recipient.

Change for the better

The new era may well be slightly more expensive (at least in the first phase); however, it will lead to increased security and the improvement in quality of prepared creations, as well as the satisfaction of both users and advertisers.

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Comment:

Krzysztof Łada

head of the agency relations team at Gemius' Polish branch

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