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Is Responsive Design a one-size-fits-all solution? An online video industry view

Published: at 12:00 AM

Responsive web design is the hottest trend of the moment, the silver bullet that is going to solve all our problems. But does it work in every situation?

At KIT digital we design online video platforms, and I’ve found that this industry’s particular rules and constraints make responsive design a lot less exciting.

The main benefit of responsive design is to serve one site to multiple, unknown devices. It’s future-proof, and allow us to customise the experience for devices with different capabilities, both in terms of screen size and features.

Now think about the online video industry, where Digital Rights Management (DRM) is an absolute requirement. Studios and content rights holders don’t allow sites to serve certain content unless their video player is DRM-protected. And one of the preferred solutions for DRM-protected video players is Silverlight. A great, solid and dead technology. Only available on desktop operating systems, that will never get to your mobile, tablet, connected TV or Internet-enabled fridge.

Does it make sense to create a responsive site using Silverlight? No.

If a user access a Silverlight-based website using a mobile phone or a tablet, she will never be able to watch a video as Silverlight isn’t available on that platform. She’ll need to use the native app, that has a DRM-protected player. Take for instance the new Demand5 iOS app that now has more shows available:

We’ve implemented a new Digital Rights Management system that meets the security requirements set by the larger studios and production companies, which means we can bring you even more shows.

From the Demand5 iTunes page.

In that scenario the benefits that a responsive approach brings are minimised. Yes, the user will still be able to use more easily other features like account management or playlists, but the main purpose—to consume video—will be blocked by technology constraints. If you don’t have an unlimited budget it makes sense to limit the scope of your site and design it using a fixed layout.

Once new technologies become available this scenario will change. Hopefully we’ll have HTML5 video players that fully support DRM making Silverlight unnecessary. That day one site could serve every platform, making native apps somehow superfluous. That day responsive design could save online video companies millions of pounds. No need to design, build and maintain one app for each device.