The madness of HTML5 banner specs

Right now WWW stands for Wild Wild West in the advertising world. Google decided to pause pretty much every single Flash ad in Chrome (if you are up to date with the latest version).

That caused a tech disruption in the advertising world that I haven’t seen before. But wait! Developers should be familiarized with HTML5 at this point, right? Yes, good developers don’t have any problem switching from Flash to HTML5. Then what is the problem? Publishers, Networks and a lot of misunderstandings and misconceptions about HTML5 by the clients, media agencies, journalists, etc.

To make things clear, when you produce a banner you have to do it under specifications and these are set by the Publisher/Network you are trafficking. When Flash was king, for more than 10 years pretty much everybody had the same specs for standard banners: 40kb, 15secs, 18-24fps. Everybody knew what to do, how to code, costs, production timelines, pipelines, tracking, etc. Everything was figured out.

But today, HTML5 world is all chaos. There is no way to achieve the quality of Flash banners in HTML5 with the same specs/budget and expect them to work across all browsers.

Some publishers are being sensitive to this and have allowed up to 200kb in the zip file for standard ad units. That way developers can use libraries like GSAP (Greensock’s TweenLite/TweenMax), CreateJS, Swiffy, Edge, etc. and keep up with pretty much the same quality.

Other publishers still want 40k zip files, but they allow the load of external libraries and/or assets from a 3rd party CDN. But there are other publishers that still wants 40-50k without the use of external calls/libraries/assets.

Even handling the clickTag can be different from one Network to another. Some Networks require you to degrade gracefully when HTML5 is not available and the weight of the backup image needs to be included in the zip file.

Imagine that you have 4 sizes for a banner (very common) and you have to publish thru 4 different networks and those files pass thru 3 different hands before reaching QA. Then one network greenlights the creative but another tells you that there is an issue with IE8 (yes, there is people in the world still using IE8). You end up having multiple versions of multiple sizes of a single banner.

It becomes a lot harder to manage, let alone produce. Naturally the costs get increased.

Yes, IAB is trying to regulate all this madness, but the latest version of their guidelines document is still very vague and open to interpretation/negotiation. And pretty much nobody is forced to follow it. The big ones are doing whatever they want. DoubleClick will allow external libraries, but Yahoo won’t. Pandora tells you they don’t traffic HTML5 ads unless you reach a 3rd party and so on.

You have to shape your client’s expectations, negotiate with the media agency, negotiate quotations, get the right specs for your vendor. Now you don’t have one client, but 5-8 and each client traffics thru a different combination of Networks.

And we haven’t talked about quotations because that’s a different beast. Sometimes clients require that a 3rd party reviews vendor’s budgets. And sometimes they argue that HTML5 ad units should not cost more than Flash units under the argument that an SWF can get converted to an HTML document with Swiffy. Then the Producer has to explain that the specs limit the creative to 100k without external calls. Swiffy library uncompressed weighs 440+kb, compressed around 130kb. That’s only the library… so there is no way the banner can be converted with that tool under 100kb.

Well, that happens when you let a browser developer take decisions about user content. It disrupts a whole industry, the one that feeds the Internet. Yes, 9Gag would disappear without our banners, YouTubers would have to find a job, TwitchTv would die, Facebook… well you get the idea.

I agree, some ads are annoying. Pages with 8 ads on top of other 8 ads are terrible. But you know what? That’s on the website owner. He is taking the decision of sacrificing your browser experience for a couple of impressions/chances of revenue, not us.

But this hasn’t ended here, there is more to come. Now that finally everybody is migrating to HTML5, Apple just decided to allow extension developers to create Ad Blockers for iOS9. I repeat… Apple, the one that was against Flash since the beginning because plug-ins are evil, will allow developers to create extensions (that are pretty much plug-ins) to block banners.

So, our precious 200k HTML5 creative ads will be blocked because, obviously, loading several 200k ads into an already bloated “responsive” website in a mobile browser is a terrible idea. And in the best case scenario we’ll be forced to fallback to static jpg/gif banners again. At the end of the day all of this transition will be for nothing because we’ll be back to the same place we have been the last 8 years (but with increased production costs and larger periods of QA)

So, what needs to happen?

Honestly, the Industry has to put a stop to Google/Apple/Mozilla’s endless quest for ruining the industry. IAB should stop saying YES to everything browser makers say but…


Ok, then we have to wait until this madness stabilizes. It is not going to be soon. There is going to be a lot of debate on the specs. It will cost a lot of money. CTRs will fall and some websites won’t survive.

But that’s just my crazy opinion.