CBS.com is apparently adding itself to the lineup of big-name media properties scrambling to get their websites ready for the upcoming Apple iPad, due out on April 3. Recently, both the Wall St. Journal and NPR.org confirmed that they were revamping their sites using HTML5 markup language, the upcoming Web standard that supports video playback without a Web browser plugin. The reason for the overhauls? Apple does not support Adobe's Flash technology on their mobile devices, a lineup that also includes iPhones and iPod Touches. That means that CBS.com's Flash-based streaming video wouldn't play on Apple's new slate computers - devices expected to land in the hands of anywhere from 1 to 6 million customers this year, depending on which analyst predictions you go by.
CBS iPad Tests Spotted in the Wild
A blogger at TheOtherMacBlog, Colum ODwyer, spotted what appeared to be HTML5 video tests late last night when two odd clips appeared on the CBS.com homepage. Screenshots were snagged showing accompanying text that read "iPad - test - dan config." (Oops, Dan, it looks like you pushed the wrong button!)
Another blogger from MacRumors, Arnold Kim, then followed up on this news by delving into the CSS of the CBS.com website itself to discover multiple references to HTML5, the technology that would be needed for viewing videos like these on the iPad. Kim also loaded up the CBS.com website using the iPad SDK Simulator, a tool provided to developers testing iPad applications. Since he was coming from a device which would appear to CBS's servers as an iPad, he was shown a different version of the site. Here, videos displayed with accompanying text that again read "iPad - test - dan config."
Without a doubt this is hard evidence that CBS is at least testing HTML5 technology with the iPad in mind. Whether or not CBS's website will actually be iPad-ready by April 3 is unknown at this time.
We have a call into CBS.com and will update this story with their comment when they phone back.Update: CBS will neither confirm or deny their iPad plans. A CBS spokesperson said the company "is constantly putting our content on a variety of platforms," and is "ready to test any idea that brings that content to the widest possible audience."
iPad Owners Want Their Free TV
The iPad is clearly meant to be a more of media consumption device than media creation device. Without a hardware-based keyboard (it's sold separately) or camera, consumers buying the iPad are expected to use it more for reading books and magazines, watching video and playing games than for creating media like videos, photos or even long-form text. For media publishers, the launch of the iPad means more pressure to convert their websites, either whole or in part, to HTML5. Although Flash is used for more than just video, publishers - and most notably sites featuring streaming video news reports or entertainment offerings like online TV shows - will be among the most heavily affected by the iPad's lack of Flash support.
In this case, CBS.com hosts a large library of videos in both standard format and HD. There are short clips as well as full length TV shows, all of which are offered for free to site visitors and are supported by in-stream ads that generate modest revenue for the broadcaster. Although you can find some of the company's content indexed on Hulu, the joint venture between NBC, Fox, ABC and others, clicking through on the links there redirects you over to CBS.com's own website. CBS also has a shaky relationship with Apple's iTunes, keeping popular shows like Big Bang Theory and The Mentalist either out of the store altogether or offering only limited seasons. (Neither appear to be available now.) In other words, if you want to watch CBS video from your computer, CBS.com is the most reliable place to find it. In that case, the company needs to get its website working on the iPad soon, or it will lose out on an audience that will potentially number in the millions by year-end.