Netflix Is The Latest To Talk The HTML5 Talk
by MG Siegler on May 19, 2010

As we all know, the battle between Flash and HTML5 for the future of online video is raging. But what about that other plugin some sites use for video? You know, the one made by Microsoft — Silverlight? A new posting tonight may call that platform’s future in video into question as well. Because arguably their most important client is looking to jump on the HTML5 video bandwagon: Netflix.

A post tonight by Adrian Cockcroft (as noticed by the blog Hacking Netflix), Netflix’s Director of Web Engineering, indicates the company’s intention to embrace HTML5 going forward. The move is apparently spurred on by Netflix’s move to Amazon’s cloud, which will require a re-architecting of the codebase, Cockcroft notes. So what better time to start supporting the latest technologies? “One of these is HTML5, which is raising the bar for cross browser support for advanced user interface features, and is now supported by a large and rapidly growing percentage of the visitors to In addition many TV based devices now embed webkit, which is the HTML5 compatible technology that underpins the Safari and Chrome browsers,” Cockcroft writes.

It’s interesting that Cockcroft never actually mentions the video capabilities of HTML5, instead he talks about the “advanced user interface features.” Still, I think we all know what he means.

He also points out that Netflix is looking to hire to make this transition happen. The one posting he highlights is for a Senior User Interface Engineer — HTML5. The position description reads as follows:

Are you passionate about building great website experiences used by millions of visitors each day? Come to Netflix where we are using HTML5 based web technologies to move ecommerce directly onto to televisions in our customers’ living rooms. As part of our Customer Acquisition team, you will lead the way to our internationalized television user interface designed to help new customers find Netflix and start streaming movies in seconds. This new experience will be deployed to HTML5 capable embedded browsers and served from our cutting edge cloud based backend service.

This move shouldn’t be all that surprising considering that Netflix was one of the first apps to embrace the iPad, bringing its videos (h264 encoded) to the device through a native app. Still, this is a huge potential win for HTML5, presuming it happens.

Update: Cockcroft has now updated his post saying he wasn’t implying it would be HTML5 video, but rather some other user interfaces. He says that because HTML5 video doesn’t have a viable DRM solution, they can’t use it yet.

So much for his opening about “leaning forward and looking for new technologies to leverage,” I guess. He should have updated that to read, “new technologies to leverage, provided they offer DRM.”


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  • I have yet to hear how anybody is going to solve the problem of preventing ripping the video files under HTML 5. There's no security built into the spec at all. No way the movie studios will play ball unless that little limitation is addressed.

    (FWIW, before everyone starts shouting "DRM!!" I really think that protecting the ripping of free streamed content on a server is not the same thing as locking you out of fairly using the media you bought…)

    • Sergey Brin actually talked about this quite a bit today during one of the panels. His basic take: has the DRM of today's technologies really stopped anything? He thinks digital watermarking is the better approach, and that can be done no matter what the streaming tech is.

      • not to mention… you can easily rip flash videos (youtube for example) via download helper (a simple extension for firefox) among other ways.

        • Yeah youtube, but what about Hulu? Youtube is definitely not the same as hulu when it comes to content. Two totally separate ideas of what content is delivered.

        • Yes, only because YouTube don't care too much about protecting their content as it's not a deal-breaker for their content providers (ie. their users). Tell me how to rip a Hulu stream?

        • Flash with progressive download can easily be ripped. But flash video with flash media server that is streamed and uses the encrypted RTMPe protocol is protected.

          It is surprising that major studios and broadcasters who are usually very sensitive to this sort of thing now don’t seem to care.

          • They do care. This whole post was stupid and naive on MG Siegler's part. The original post on Adrian Cockcroft's blog has now been updated to point out that MG Siegler's interpretation of what he wrote is WRONG. Adrian was just saying they would use HTML 5 for the player rather than Silverlight. He wasn't saying they would switch from Silverlight Video (e.g. SmoothHD) to HTML 5 (VP8 or h.264 or whatever). That isn't what he meant and MG Siegler should have known better.

      • DRM as it applies to physical media hasn't stopped much, but I would bet that if Hulu was as easy to rip as YouTube (no protection, you can do it with just a stock install of Safari) there'd be a lot more high quality TV rips of those shows floating around.

      • Sergey appears to be having a slight loss of memory then, given YouTube hasn't been able to do any deals with studios that doesn't mandate them to use RTMPE in Flash to secure the streams from ripping as Hulu does - and so they do use RTMPE on those videos. And hence all of that content (and those videos are 's main strategy to make money from YouTube) doesn't appear in their HTML5 beta, and never will.

        Digital watermarking does nothing here - if you rent a stream to someone and they rip it so they don't have to buy a permanent copy, then as a studio you lose money even if it's not distributed to anyone else. And if it's not distributed to anyone else, what good is a watermark?

      • It's funny how its always the content distributors that don't give a damn about DRM. I think its naive to assume DRM has been non-effective as it does add a barrier of entry that discourages most casual thieves from downloading illegal movies. If there were even less hoops to jump through, piracy would be even more rampant.

        I mean, my front door lock can easily be bypassed by even the most idiotic thief or they could just as easily throw a rock through my window. Locks don't really keep thieves away, they keep honest people from becoming thieves.

        I am no fan of most DRM, but I completely understand why so many content producers see it as a must.

  • "It’s interesting that Cockcroft never actually mentions the video capabilities of HTML5, instead he talks about the “advanced user interface features.” Still, I think we all know what he means"

    Do we? Or does it just mean, you know, the advanced user interface features? After all, how are they going to protect their content, do adaptive bitrate streaming, intelligent buffering, and all the other things that Silverlight (and Flash) can do?

    • As humorous as it is to think that Netflix directors would write posts about wanting to do HTML site redesigns, I'm fairly certain he's thinking about video, and how to serve it with HTML5.

      • There are other potential features within HTML5 that may be of interest to them. Darren makes some very good points, copy protection, variable bitrate streaming, buffering, etc., are all huge concerns, ones that cannot, at this time, be solved with HTML5 video.

        HTML5 video is going to be great for community video (YouTube), and homemade videos for websites, but there are way too many issues facing big content distributors, and their needs copy protection and consistent user experiences. Just because HTML5 can play video, doesn't mean that is going to be capable of playing video and delivering everything else that the providers are needing from it. The user experience (smooth playback, variable bitrate streaming, buffering, etc.) are all vastly more important than the ability to wrap a video in a <video> tag. Shout "open" all you want from the rooftops, as a developer, creating a consistent user experience without having to code for 5 different environments to do so is still more important than that precious video tag.

        Developers have to deliver a product or an experience. The value of that end result is measured not only in development time, but also in how well it works for the user. For the foreseeable future, on a large scale, that experience is going to remain within Flash or Silverlight.

      • Yeah, he's probably thinking about video, but I don't think he really thought out all of the details. HTML5 Video will be great, even better now that VP8 is going to be open sourced from with WebM.

        I just don't think the content providers (i.e. Production Studios) will be happy when people can rip high quality copies of the movie they just rented from Netflix.

        It's like if I could somehow play my rented MP4 Hurt Locker from the Itunes store, even though it has a watermark, I doubt studios would be cool with that.

        Darren has a good point, HTML5 currently doesn't support adaptive bitrate streaming, auto upscaling and auto downscaling.

        I worked for a web video company a few years back, and you can detect bandwidth at the beggining with standard web video (no flash etc.) but you can't do adaptive. Silverlight has adaptive and so does flash. It's a big feature when you are trying to reach users and want to avoid buffering.

        Also I haven't seen how Pre-roll, mid-roll and post-roll ads will work with HTML5. I'm sure it's possible, but i haven't see anything on it yet.

      • Really? I think you should have another look at the job description. Netflix have reworded it and removed all mention of HTML5. Also the responsibilities strongly suggest UI changes and not core functionality.

      • Netflix is doing the same thing that many companies are doing and paying lipservice to HTML5 as a technology they plan to invest in without actually having to do anything significant. You are making a HUGE assumption that this means they plan to serve up video in HTML5 - especially given the total lack of clarity as to which video codec will be chosen and the complete lack of security and advanced streaming features in HTML5 video (a la Hulu's).

        Everyone who uses Flash or Silverlight these days is getting pressure about HTML5. The reality is there is no viable 100% HTML5 option for most of these companies so the best way to alleviate the pressure is to do something small (like a GUI change) so you can say "Look! We use HTML5."

      • well, given the update Cockcroft posted on his blog regarding your assertions, I'd say that you were WRONG.

      • He's not. Serving video via HTML5 is not on Netflix's radar because of the technical and drm problems detailed by others. But Netflix has always placed huge importance on its interface, and is willing to take advantage of any opportunity to improve them. HTML5 provides such an opportunity.

      • Maybe rethink that smart-ass reply next time MC in case, you know, you're dead wrong (see Cockcroft's update on his blog).

  • What is holding back NetFlix on Apple TV?

  • did i read it correctly that the job posting said "lead the way to our internationalized interface"?
    does that mean netflix will soon be available outside of the USA, like canada?

  • I love this, the faster things move to HTML5/H264 or VP8 the better. What other major sites use Silverlight besides Netflix? With Microsoft embracing HTML5/H264 and now VP8, Silverlight seems pretty pointless, unless you're a Windows Phone 7 developer. And not alot of those it seems.

  • The only time I've ever come across Silverlight is's coverage of the Olympics.

  • I'm at a loss… why does anyone think that "HTML5" is indicative of anything whatsoever related to streaming video? The job description doesn't seem to relate to video transport at all, they're talking about e-commerce and Customer Acquisition, apparently for some new pay-as-you-go (non-membership) UI.

  • Netflix is terrible. I dont care how they code their site, until they let users watch anything streaming, Netflix is just a big disappointment.

    It really has come to the point that I know a move is B rate, if its listed on netflix…

  • I've always liked Sliverlight-it runs much, much better on my Mac than Flash. Strange that it's a Microsoft product…

  • Ok,
    Recently I wrote my most popular blog post called "Apple’s attack on Adobe Flash, it’s all about online video." at
    I basically go over Steves letter about Flash. Show how much of it is misleading or untrue.
    Steve not being stupid, (I would think that would be the general consensus) must have reasons for misleading the web community and trying to displace Flash.
    As mentioned here in the comments, HTML5 video lacks the features that make it a technology Hollywood will support.
    Currently we have two companies (Microsoft does not count) that offer technologies that CAN.
    Apple and Adobe Flash.
    As stated by the Adobe CEO, this is all about business models. Apple is playing dirty and using its distortion field to displace flash. Destroy the confidence in it. Making Apples video technologies the only choice for the future of internet video.
    Flash has its problems and will diminish in usage in general, however, there are MANY features and capabilities we will give up if we give up on flash. Those who disagree are ignorant to the technologies and how they are used. All the big media companies are not pulling back on flash. They are looking into HTML5. As they should.

    The DRM issue is massive and Hollywood will never move forward without it.

    The revaluation… ; features that would make HTML5 video acceptable are within the grasp of the open source developers. They just need to get on top of this now while HTML5 is still young and open to change.
    All Feature films released in Digital (DCI - are protected with a completely open technologies. The specifications are based on SMPTE documents and open source encryption technologies.
    If hollywood accepts that.. we should be able to get something similar into HTML5.

    Then Adobe and Flash will stop playing this stupid game.. Waisting our time and spreading FUD all over the net. Steve, I am NOT impressed.

  • Seems pretty straight forward to me… announces today a new HTML5 based TV interface that will be implemented directly inside new TV sets and/or available through an attachment. If you watch the video posted with the release, it specifically shows a laptop with the Netflix logo. Netflix is looking for an HTML5 engineer to use "HTML5 based web technologies to move ecommerce directly onto to televisions in our customers’ living rooms."

  • May be you should ask, if HTML5 is so good, why is using Flash even for its future products eg: TV?

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