HTML5 Video and Next Gen Journalism

HTML5 code

“In the past, video was in a black box of a player. HTML5 video blows up that box and allows video to be ‘of the web’ and interact with the web.” –Ben Moskowitz of Mozilla.

What is HTML5 & HTML5 Video?
HTML5 is the current developing standard, or fifth revision, of the HTML web mark up language.  HTML5 video refers to a specification set by the W3C committee and the tools used to display and play video within a web page The HTML5 video spec is an open-standard, like CSS and JavaScript.

Since 2011 versions of browsers such as Internet Explorer, Firefox, Chrome, Safari, and Opera have all implemented the HTML5 video element to different degrees.

Although Flash video is still used across all these browsers, Apple adopted support for the HTML5 video tag for playing video on their mobile devices running the iOS operating system.  This change led to an accelerated global adoption of HTML5 video due to the number of Apple devices in use.  For example, video sites such as YouTube, Vimeo, and have implemented a degree of experimental support for HTML5 video in the past year.  In particular, YouTube currently has a public opt-in trial (link to for HTML5 video.

A downside to HTML5 video is largely based upon the choice of many Internet users who continue using older browsers such as Internet Explorer 8 (the highest version currently available to users of Windows XP).  Due to old browser/unsupported browser factors, portions of the HTML5 specification do not work.  In addition, there is also functionality available to broadband Flash application that is not (widely, or at all) supported by the HTML5 video spec.

For information about the other (few) downsides of HTML5:

Because the HTML5 video spec is based on open web standards, application programmers have been able to develop, modify and adapt new frameworks that can enhance video presentations on the web. Popcorn.js is a JavaScript library that is able to make a variety of calls to available web services that can then be integrated with a video file during playback. As a development resource, it has helped drive and expand the integration of web elements and real-time data with video.  In essence, Popcorn.js provides a plugin system for community contributed interactions.  Popcorn has dozens of plugins for common services and APIs, ranging from Twitter, to Maps, to media events, and more.

For more information about the development of Popcorn.js:

Opportunities for Use in Journalism

There are three core opportunities for HTML5 video to advance journalism:
1)   Subtitling & Transcription
2)   Social & Viral Distribution
3)   Video Annotation

Subtitling & Transcription
HTML5 enables an easy workflow to facilitate crowdsourced translations.  A real life example of this is the use of Universal Subtitles, now known as Amara.  They currently have a project in journalism with PBS NewsHour.  In this particular project called “Open Election 2012 Subtitle Team,” PBS asks users to donate time by creating closed captioning or translations for a list of videos.  They hope to make the 2012 election more accessible to Americans with disabilities or who are still learning English.

Social & Viral Distribution
Mozilla Foundation is currently working with PBS NewsHour and FRONTLINE on several past and upcoming pieces.  A web-based documentary not only has a beginning, middle, and end, but it also lets users follow story threads that lead in many directions such as within the “Money, Power & Wall Street” series.  Several other examples of their work can be found here.

Video Annotation
As the Ben Moscowitz quote noted, video annotation helps make video “of the web”.  Remember VH1’s Pop-Up Video?  Well, NPR’s Pop-Up Politics is just like that, except it uses the “pop-up” capabilities to display fact-checks or relevant statistics.  NPR blogger Elise Hu also posted about the more humorous side of using such technology in politics and journalism.

A more common use for video annotation is likely as a set of tools that allow a field reporter to quickly annotate video with basic content type: text & images (future could be map, embedded video, or embedded audio), and then the ability to easily publish the content to web or social media.  To make this process even easier, the key would be to develop a couple of basic templates for presentation, along with basic customization.  By doing so, Popcorn.js can be used as presentation for breaking news or field news.

ODDI’s Video Annotation Tool Experiment
According to the ODDI Tech Team: “ODDI is currently working on an open source project to create and customize new templates for producers to use with Mozilla’s Popcorn Maker.  These templates will focus on encouraging audience engagement and providing real-time contextual information to enhance and extend the value of original USIM video content.  The new templates will also offer a tailored approach for USIM video producers allowing them to quickly and simply create these interactive media experiences. Once released, ODDI plans to contribute the new template code back to the open source community for further development and improvements.”

More resources related to HTML5 & HTML5 video:
HTML5 Video –
HTML5 Video -

(Thank you to Robert Bole, Adam Martin, and the ODDI Tech Team for their contributions to this post.)

(The foregoing commentary does not constitute endorsement by the US Government, the Broadcasting Board of Governors, VOA, MBN, OCB, RFA, or RFE/RL of the information products or services discussed.)

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April Deibert

April Deibert

April Deibert is the Multimedia Blogger/Producer for the Office of Digital & Design Innovation. Follow her on Twitter: @BBGinnovate and @AprilDeibert.

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