August 24th, 2015

Publishers Urge Advertisers To Kill Flash In Favor Of HTML5

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Finally, a roadmap that may bring the end of Flash on the Web.

One by one, major advertisers and publishers are giving up on Adobe Flash and moving to HTML5.

Starting September 1st, Amazon will ban advertisements based on Flash across its owned and operated domains. Amazon is taking the stance to ban Flash after a flurry of security issues with the rich media plugin over the last two months have made Flash an almost untenable product across the Web.

Amazon states:

Beginning September 1, 2015, Amazon no longer accepts Flash ads on, AAP, and various IAB standard placements across owned and operated domains.

This is driven by recent browser setting updates from Google Chrome, and existing browser settings from Mozilla Firefox and Apple Safari, that limits Flash content displayed on web pages. This change ensures customers continue to have a positive, consistent experience across Amazon and its affiliates, and that ads displayed across the site function properly for optimal performance.

Publishers are piling on the call to end Flash in advertising as well. In an open letter from several prominent publishers to the advertising industry, the call to kill Flash in favor of HTML5 was clear.

HTML5 will enable you, your agencies and publishing partners to make your creative ideas captivating on every screen, elevate your brand image, and lower your creative costs. We know this may mean a change in how you develop your ad creative. But there are many tools to augment work with HTML5, such as responsive design, and a multitude of suppliers available to assist.

The letter was signed by some of the largest publishers in the world, including The New York Times, Conde Nast, Forbes, AOL, The Weather Company, The Wall Street Journal and Google.

Amazon and the publishers appear to have different motivations. Amazon provides a lengthy list of what ads on its platforms are and are not allowed to do. Amazon provides guidelines for how to implement HTML ads that appear to be designed towards thwarting spammers, remote code injection and drive-by downloads.

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Companies like Amazon are looking at what happened to Yahoo over a period of a week or so at the end of July and are beginning to get serious about the death of Flash. Yahoo was hit by a wave of malicious advertising for more than a week, targeting vulnerable older versions of Flash and sending users to malware stricken sites.

See also: Rich Media Built With HTML5 Is Coming To The Facebook News Feed

Publishers are more concerned about the ads being seen in the first place. Mozilla and Safari provide easy options to block Flash and Chrome has pretty much outright banned it. If a browser does not support Flash as a standard format, the browser itself basically turns into a giant ad blocker that is far more effective than any browser extension or third-party tool.

Tips For Replacing Flash With HTML5 From Publishers

The Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) has some basic guidelines for how ad developers can replace Flash with HTML5. The transition will not be without some pain for advertising agencies.

The argument for Flash is that it is fairly easy to use to build rich media display ads and banners. Flash is built with a graphical development tool from Adobe, which makes it similar to using other Adobe tools like Photoshop. HTML5 is much more reliant on code to deliver ads, which places a greater emphasis on having Web-savvy developers instead of designers that are familiar with Adobe’s tools. The transition means that companies will have to spend more money to hire developers to build and maintain ads.


HTML5-based ads tend to be provided as JavaScript or iFrame tags in .txt or .xls formats. If you are unfamiliar with HTML5, it is a markup language used for structuring and formatting content for the Web. The value of HTML5 is that it provides the Web with a variety of rich media features that were previously unavailable to Web developers such as cross-platform dynamic video and audio delivery, canvas design elements, responsive design and much more. HTML5 is the bridge between the capability of native apps written in Java or Objective-C and similar capabilities through browsers on the Web.

The IAB’s “HTML5 For Digital Advertising” (PDF) is essentially a cheat sheet for how to switch from Flash to HTML5 for banner ads. The guide was written by a variety of companies including Google and YouTube, AOL, Time, CBS, Medialets and others.

The IAB recognizes that this is going to be a transitional stage for the digital advertising industry. The banner ads created in HTML5 are not going to be as useful for rich media and interaction as old Flash ads. More complex ad formats (such as ads that expand when a user hovers over them) are “out of scope” for the IAB’s guidelines, but future iterations will bring better capabilities.

For a cheat sheet on guidelines for HTML5-based ads, Amazon provides a useful list of best practices for advertising with HTML on its sites.

A few of Amazon’s highlights:

  • HTML5 ads cannot access local device APIs like geolocation, microphone or camera.
  • Ad serving and tracking must be over HTTPS.
  • Ads must support all modern browsers and have “graceful failovers for older versions.”
Via Amazon

Via Amazon

Amazon also notes proper size of banner ads on the desktop, as approved by the IAB and AAP and Amazon itself.

Amazon’s guidelines are all aimed at deterring much of the malicious advertising that has been spread by Flash over the years. For instance, all ad content must come from the ad publishers server domain and may not call in content from a different domain (to combat URL spoofing). All domain and URL references must be from named domains, not raw IP addresses where the user cannot tell where they are going. The display URL must actually go to where it says it is going to go. Advertisements must not trigger downloads.

We’ve been hearing about the death of Flash for years now. Both Apple and Google took a bite out of the viability with Flash by banning on mobile it on iOS and Android, respectively. Microsoft has done its part by deprecating is own media player (Silverlight) in favor of HTML5. But Flash on the Web has persisted. With a major push from the publishers and advertisers on the Web, Flash may—finally—be nearing the end of its life.

Lead image: “HTML5 gaming rocket wallpaper” by Flickr user Christian Heilmann, Creative Commons

  • Susan

    What impact will this have on applications that run on flash?

    • Qbe Root

      If browsers (finally) abandon Flash, sites that run on Flash just won’t run anymore. If you really want to access a Flash application, chances are you’ll have to download it and run it in the standalone version of Flash Player (assuming Adobe doesn’t take that down).

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  • Ilze

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  • David Cepero

    You forgot to mention the Flash application has moved toward the HTML5 canvas or AIR for Android and iOS. In saying that the end of Flash is near, is often misconstrued in the perception that the application is useless, and the cost for advertising agencies won’t have to increase if the HTML5 canvas still be created by designers in the Flash application.

    I’m curious as to why you don’t specify were talking about the Flash player as opposed to the actual application that can create HTML5. It’s a great tool for website creation and its HTML5 canvas is compatible with all of the aforementioned. A little research goes a long way.

  • janus999

    The Adobe Flash Browser is coming… lol. Seriously – if a person wants to make animated or gaming content – how does HTML5 replace Flash (which despite what people think had some of the best content creation tools of any medium)? Is there a workflow as fluid and scalable to designer or coder types as Flash for HTML5? How approachable is it? Even kids could produce content in Flash – how about HTML5?