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Ali Joone: “HTML 5 is the future”

from – If you ask Apple, Flash is not worth the effort anymore. If you ask Nvidia, Flash is still a huge business opportunity. And Google might agree (or not. I will get to that a bit further down.) Wh is right?

Critics of Flash typically claim that Adobe’s technology comes with plenty of bugs and a huge overhead that takes a toll on hardware performance, which is especially painful in devices with limited processing horsepower. I have always been careful with those claims as Adobe may be able fix Flash problems and it clearly sees enough pressure to make Flash a much better platform that can survive.

“Survive” may be a strong word, but if you think about it, the current debate has turned into a format war. We have HTML 5, which is generally praised as the next major evolutionary step for HTML that automatically questions the future of Flash. Conceivably, Flash could co-exist next to HTML 5, but if we look at the possibilities that are provided by HTML 5, it is entirely possible that Flash will be obsolete in the not distant future. It is what Steve Jobs said. Flash was great, but it’s really on its way out and it’s time to look for, in Jobs’ words, the next horse to ride.

It is a no-brainer to predict that Flash will live and die with content. If Adobe can provide compelling reasons for developers to build Flash apps, Flash may stay with us for a long time. But if Apple is able to ignite a format war that turns into an either-or decision for developers (no developer will voluntarily develop for more platforms than absolutely necessary), which is the format that is likely to win?

The adult film industry was able to influence and help win format wars in the past. It was the critical factor when VHS won over Beta and it is an open secret that Blu-ray also gained an advantage over HD-DVD because of porn – as the Playstation 3 indirectly promoted sales of high-res adult movies in much greater volumes than the HD DVD.

All major adult film studios in the U.S. stopped producing HD DVDs more than three months before Toshiba announced that it would halt the format. There is a good chance that the adult film industry will have a say in the HTML 5-Flash battle as well.

While the industry suffers because of the emergence of tube-websites, it is still estimated that the industry rakes in a combined $13 billion in online revenues every year. Porn remains very popular. According to, among the 100 most popular websites in the U.S., seven are porn-related. International estimates claim that roughly 12% of all websites carry pornographic content.

It was natural thought to ask Ali Joone [pictured], founder and director of Digital Playground (DP), one of the leading adult film studios in the U.S. for his thoughts on the format debate. Not surprisingly, while many of us are still trying to figure out which way we should go, Joone has already a clear direction for his company: “HTML 5 is the future,” he said. For Joone, it is a simple matter of exposure why HTML 5 will win over Flash.

More than two years ago, he began offering content for the iPhone. Since Apple does not allow pornographic content in its App Store and since Safari does not run Flash, DP began taking the HTML 5 route. DP’s HTML 5 streams for mobile devices have been available for more than a year now. Joone said that he is following the Flash integration in Android, but he indicated that it is rather irrelevant to him whether Android will support Flash or not: “Mobile browsers run HTML 5 very well. Flash brings everything to a crawl and has an impact on battery life. With HTML 5, there is no reason to show our content in Flash.”

DP is still publishing content in Flash online, since desktop browsers, especially IE8, aren’t ready for HTML 5 yet. “We are waiting for browsers to catch up. As soon as they are ready, we will move everything to HTML 5,” Joone said. He noted that he was grateful for what Flash has delivered, but said that it was “just a matter of time” until Flash disappears. “It’s the next passing of the torch.”

Joone’s thoughts add more and possibly unbiased perspective to the Flash-HTML 5 discussion. It would be foolish to underestimate the influence of the adult film industry and I wonder how Adobe will react to this trend.

And interesting side aspect is, by the way, Google.

Google has voiced its support for Flash, even if it has remained unclear whether there was a business reason behind that decision or whether Eric Schmidt simply wants to annoy Steve Jobs. However, it is a fact that Google Chrome has become a bulky browser due to the integration of Flash (and Adobe PDF in its latest Chrome developer version) and this may be a very high price to pay for the benefit to be able patch Flash security issues with universal Chrome updates. Perhaps too high.

Adobe should not feel too comfortable about Google’s opinion on Flash, as the company is already enthusiastically promoting HTML 5 to developers and its YouTube division an HTML 5 player already out in the market.

There is also a huge debate about the opportunity of online video distribution and a trend that could eliminate Blu-ray before it can surpass the DVD. Joone believes that there is no reason to believe that the Blu-ray disc will die anytime soon.

While he said that the adoption of Blu-ray is somewhat slower than he initially expected, he noted that Blu-ray sales are increasing steadily. The DVD is still outselling Blu-ray media by at least 2:1, but Joone said that big-budget titles “do very well” on Blu-ray, while mainstream titles cannot convince people to shell out the extra money for a Blu-ray disc. The DVD is still important, but “it’s still pretty expensive to playback Blu-ray media and not a lot of PCs come with Blu-ray drives,” Joone said.

DP found that a customer who downloads movies is a very different customer than someone who buys physical media. The company has been offering digital downloads for about five years and is now selling about half of its content online and half on “finished” media. Online distribution is especially used by people who want immediate access to content, those who do not want the discs mailed to them because of privacy reasons and those who simply can’t get the media because of legal restrictions in their country.

But you can’t share downloads, which is why Joone believes optical media are here to stay and why digital and physical media are complementary for now. “It’s just like a book. You can give it to a friend. You can’t do that with a digital version.”

There is an interesting implication of the iPhone. Apple likes to see the iPhone “clean”. But DP in fact sees quite some demand for its content on the iPhone – and the iPad. “There is an instant gratification involved when you download content to the iPhone. We were surprised how loyal iPhone and especially iPad owners are. 70% of our customers are returning customers. They spend a lot of money,” Joone said.

Some may argue how much gratification is possible on a 3.5” screen. But Joone argues that the reason why people like to watch adult content on a phone ahs to do with personal space. “First there was the TV. Then there was the PC, which is now shared by the entire family and it’s not personal anymore. The phone is very personal to us, which is why our content works on this platform.”

When HD was the hot topic, some of us were wondering whether there are things you really don’t want to see in HD. That question may come back for 3D. However, it may be a bit early to ask that question now.

Joone said that DP has been playing with 3D content – there has been “R&D” and some scenes were shot in 3D. “It looks cool,” he said. “But we watched it on a $5000 TV and were wearing $100 glasses.” He compared the experience with a move from “stereo sound to Dolby 5.1” and said that 3D “enhances voyeurism.”

However, he wonders whether there is really a market at this time: “People just bought HDTVs. Will they buy now a 3D TV? No. 3D will see a slow adoption. We will support it, but we are at least 2 to 3 years away from mass adoption,” Joone believes.

And then there is the question whether people will want to wear glasses while they are watching TV. “In 5 years, we will be able to watch 3D without the need of $100-a-pair glasses. And 3D TVs will cost less than $1000. When that happens, 3D will be a mass experience.”


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