Widespread Adoption Of VP8 Will Take Years, But Google Can Afford To Wait

While I agree with those that think Google making VP8 an open-source video codec is a big deal, even if it ends up having licensing issues, it's way too early for anyone to talk about the demise of H.264. It took years for H.264 to surpass VP6 and become the preferred video codec  and it will take years for VP8 to seriously challenge H.264. While initially the introduction of VP8 is bad news for content owners since it means more complexity in their workflow, over time it's really about giving them more choice, which is a good thing.

For Google, they know that VP8 is a long-term play, just like YouTube has been. Google is willing to spend the time and money to get VP8 widely adopted without the need for the codec to have to generate any revenue for any of their product lines. Google makes no money from licensing VP8 so this is not about money for them, not yet at least. Initially, VP8 will be just like YouTube. A platform that enables them to get mass scale and reach and plenty of time to integrate video into other major lines of their business.

As the browser wars continue to heat up and companies take sides on which video codecs they will support, Google's in a unique position. Not only do they own one of the fastest growing browsers with Chrome, but now they also own the VP8 video codec and control YouTube which has the most traffic of any site on the web. While some have suggested that all Google needs to do is convert everything on YouTube over to VP8 to get mainstream support for VP8, that by itself won't be enough. If it was that easy, then Google would not be working with all of the other hardware, software and platform partners they announced last week.

This is a long-term play for Google and one that involves multiple devices, which means they have to have hardware support. And even with the hardware partners they announced last week, we still don't know exactly what those hardware providers are going to do. While many partners were quick to say they "support" Google's initiatives, they haven't said exactly how they will do that or which future chipsets will offer support for VP8. The bottom line is that that true VP8 support is going to take years to get but Google is in a position where they don't need to rush the adoption. Google can take their time to do this right since HTML5 is still not ready for prime time and content owners still have plenty of time to devise content monetization models.

I'm sure some will judge Google based on the adoption of VP8 six months or even a year from now, but that would be short-sided thinking on their part. With the news Google put out last week and the groundwork they are laying for what will become of VP8, the real judge of VP8's impact on the market won't be truly felt for a few years.

  • Daz

    You should read the actual hardware partner announcements, they link to them from their blog. Most of them were specific about which chipsets would support WebM in the future and many also talked about which existing chipsets would get firmwire updates to give them WebM support.
    TI said OMAP4 will support it and they are working to bring it to the whole OMAP range including the popular OMAP3 chipset used in the Motorola Droid, N900, and Palm Pre.
    Broadcom said they’d have it in their VideoCore chipsets in Q3 2010, Videantis say they’ll have firmware updates for existing systems in the field.
    ARM said it was already optimised for ARM9, ARM11 and NEON as found in nearly every phone etc. etc.
    WebM will start to matter in the 6-12 months range, that’s when Opera, Mozilla, Chrome and Adobe will have launched support in stable releases and begun the consumer upgrade cycle. Hardware from multiple vendors will also be available at that time.

  • Thanks, I will check that out.

  • Micro Soft

    I think you mean it took Microsoft years to finally surpass Real, and it took H264 years to finally surpass WMV.
    Btw, Microsoft has thousands of porting agreements in place for WMA and to a lesser extent WMV. These agreements/announcements alone don’t mean market success although to be fair without them they guaranteed not to succeed.

  • John

    I don’t think it matters if VP8 surpasses or replaces h.264. It just needs to put enough pressure on h.264 to keep them from feeling like they can ramp up the licensing costs to whatever they would if they felt like there was no competition.