YouTube Suddenly Requires Flash

In November 2010 I removed the Adobe Flash Player plug-in from my iMac and have never re-installed it. This broke a number of websites but there were some simple workarounds to get things going again. In the case of YouTube I installed Connor McKay’s YouTube5 Safari Extension which had been working very well until recently. Note that YouTube does have an experimental HTML5 Player which I have tried but it has some limitations and the YouTube5 Safari Extension seemed like the better option (use one or other, not both).

On June 20 I tried watching a YouTube video which had been playing fine before and got a message saying “The Adobe Flash Player is required for video playback”. Needless to say I was not happy. I tried other videos and some worked as normal but many gave the same message. I also noticed that the problem videos did in fact start playing but within a second or so they were interrupted, which was particularly galling because it meant that playback clearly did not require the Adobe Flash Player – the message was untrue and it was just that Google didn’t want us to view the videos.

I searched the Google Product Forums for reports of this problem and when I found nothing I posted one myself, see Why is Flash suddenly required for many videos? The next day there were already a number of responses from people who were having the same problem, so at least I knew it wasn’t just me. There was also an annoying and irrelevant response from anmoose which simply said “YouTube has been using the Flash player since 2005. It seems odd that you’re just now finding that out”. YouTube had been working fine for us, this was a new problem clearly resulting from something Google had changed in the last couple of days.

I then found that this was also being discussed on the YouTube5 website (most recent comments are at the bottom of the page so you have to scroll down). It appeared that the problem was only affecting videos with ads (which explained why some still worked) and that it didn’t affect embedded YouTube video. I commented that I was seeing the problem and gave a link to my thread on the Google Product Forums. Connor reported on his efforts to find a fix but the best he could do was add Flash blocking functionality to his extension and suggest that people install the Flash plugin, which I was not willing to do. Joacim suggested joining the YouTube “Feather” Beta which is apparently a low latency version for slow connections (at least one other person had success with that). I decided on a different approach which was to make Safari pretend I was on an iPad. This fools YouTube into serving the mobile version, which actually works very well in Safari for OS X and does not require Flash (to do this you first have to go to Safari’s Advanced Preferences and enable “Show Develop menu in menu bar” after which you can switch User Agent in the Develop menu). The trouble with this solution as I soon found out is that some videos won’t play on mobile devices!

Actually I already knew that, an example being my own video You’ve got one on your tail. If you try to watch it on a mobile device you will get the message “The content owner has not made this video available on mobiles”. It wasn’t actually me that imposed the restriction. What happened is that I used audio from the Public Enemy track “Son of a Bush” which resulted in a Content ID match. It is therefore really Warner Music Group that decided not to make my video available on mobiles.

So the User Agent trick was not ideal either. Fortunately when I checked the YouTube5 site again there was a solution posted by phriedrich. He discovered that YouTube is now loading some JavaScript which checks for the presence of the Adobe Flash Player plug-in and aborts video playback if it is not found. He used the popular AdBlock Safari Extension to block the following URL pattern:

http://s.ytimg.com/yts/jsbin/www_watch_mod-*.js

I was already using the AdBlock extension so it was simple to add the rule and it worked a treat. It wasn’t long though before I noticed a side effect – clicking the “Like” button on YouTube no longer had any effect (same with “Add to” etc). I can work around this by temporarily disabling AdBlock but clearly that is not optimal. It is disappointing that in this day and age Google would deliberately introduce an unnecessary dependence on a proprietary browser plug-in. Presumably they thought it would somehow increase advertising revenue. My stubborn refusal to install the plug-in makes life difficult at times but I am not ready to give in yet!

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6 responses to “YouTube Suddenly Requires Flash

  1. Thanks for posting this workaround, I’ll try it as soon as I’m on my mac at home!

  2. I admire your persistence in this. I mainly use Chrome, which I think has Flash embedded. It still crashes at times. We also use Firefox and had a recent issue with it disabling Flash due to ‘vulnerabilities’. Turned out I had 2 different Flash versions and it was using the older one.

    I have to make my system usable for 4 different user accounts and I’ll get complaints if they kids can’t use various Flash-based games and education sites. I wish Flash would go away, but stuck with it for now.

  3. I basically went through everything that you did, coming to the same conclusion that there is no perfect solution at the moment, and that Google is shit for making this requirement.

    I feel the same way about Facebook with their desktop Flash requirement for videos (which prevents YouTube5 from working there w/o Flash because Facebook checks for the plugin before even offering the video), even though they play fine on any other.

    I recently reread this: http://www.apple.com/hotnews/thoughts-on-flash/
    Over three years ago! Apple made huge waves in the internet landscape with their opposition to Flash, and it’s essentially dead on mobile. Even desktop sites started dropping Flash (slowly). But now we see some massive and influential companies continuing to embrace Flash for NO LEGITIMATE REASONS. It is ALL advertising driven! It is so sad to see Google getting even more adamant about Flash, even going so far as to cripple this extension by checking for Flash regardless of need (even adless videos get Flash-checks!). Another example besides Google and Facebook that do this is Pandora. Try using Pandora on desktop w/o Flash. there is a check. Then, change your user agent to Firefox for Mac. Pandora will play perfectly fine! AND THERE ARE STILL ADS! Pandora requires Flash for ads, even though it can display most of them without it!

    Ugh, it all just drives me insane.

    • Thanks for reading and commenting JEH. I don’t have a solution for Facebook videos other than not watching them. I liked Pandora but haven’t been able to use it for a few years since it was blocked for non-US users. On the other hand I face the same problem with the BBC news website where videos tell me to download Flash – I can get them to play by changing Safari’s user agent string to iPad. It seems that it is mainly large organisations that require Flash – I guess they feel they have a captive audience.

  4. Thanks! I added that filter rule to my Adblock filters. I don’t care about Like buttons breaking – only lamers click Like buttons 😉

    I also up-/down-moderated the good/evil comments in the Google thread. It’s rather sad that people still need to remind Google that Flash is obsolete (and has been for years) – maybe Google are too hooked on the advertising Kool Aid and want us to be too. But in the wake of the Prism scandal, the whole Google brand is in trouble and users will soon leave if not getting what they want. Many folk are now escaping these prisons. You can too… 🙂

    https://prism-break.org/

  5. Someone just contacted me through my website to ask if I knew why comments were not loading in YouTube when using the YouTube5 Safari Extension. Unfortunately they did not give a name or email address so I can’t reply to them – all I can do is post something here. I don’t know why comments are not loading but I noticed it myself on April 26th and the following day a guy called Erik commented on the YouTube5 web page to say that YouTube5 was throwing JavaScript errors that prevent content from loading. As yet there is no sign of a fix.

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