Production & Post Global Viewpoint – March 2017

Is IMF the Answer to Real World Distribution Problems?

Your media is your greatest asset—a well-worn phrase that has been around for many years, but truer today than ever before. Savvy media executives are looking for ways to maximize those assets across multiple platforms and delivery channels. The goal then becomes, building a production workflow to automate the media conversion.

Every content owner has developed a proprietary, customized or individually configured stratagem to increase revenue with their media and services, for example the on-demand solution for cable television companies varies from franchise to franchise. To supply Video-On-Demand (VOD) files in the USA alone, a company must be prepared to deliver over 230 types of media files; international distribution requires that the appropriate translations and subtitles are supplied to the end location, and hundreds of additional file and metadata types must be formatted as well. Over-the-Top (OTT) services add another layer of complications and yet more file formats.

Wouldn’t it be great if a MAM workflow tool could take a single file and automatically output all the various file flavors necessary to deliver media to the most locations?

Enter IMF

The Society of Motion Pictures and Television Engineers (SMPTE) has adopted and published the Interoperable Master Format (IMF) specification, a standard already impacting global media distribution methods. SMPTE is hosting “plug-fests” around the world and working with the international community of vendors to ensure that IMF files are fully compliant with the specifications and interoperable. Companies such as Netflix have standardized on IMF packages for their media delivery, and Hollywood producers and distributors have welcomed the format and an opportunity to standardize and lower costs. While our industry would greatly benefit if everyone could quickly adopt the IMF standard, legacy hardware and existing software systems are delaying this process of conversion for numerous companies.

  • The IMF specification builds on previous SMPTE standards and requires JPEG2000 encoded files and specific wrappers for audio and subtitle files. Yet, the specification goes further to organize the media inside the IMF package in a unique way that supports replication and distribution. It is that organization that can revolutionize your library and workflow system. Inside an IMF package the media is arranged in Component Play Lists (CPLs)—the video, audio channels, subtitles and metadata are stored in a particular format, and that method of storage can be adapted to modern MAM tools. Additionally, the IMF specifications call for a unique Output Play List (OPL) for each CPL that is delivered. These OPLs include the processes that must be performed on the media to deliver the required file type for a particular consumer, including:
    • Transcode the media to a different video format
    • Manage audio levels
    • Run automated quality control software
    • Add watermarks and encryption
    • Trigger delivery methods such as content distribution networks and accelerators or File Transfer Protocol (FTP)

These “engines” modify the files for delivery and can be integrated into your MAM Workflows. OPLs can be configured for each distribution requirement, so a work order in the MAM-Workflow system can specify a CPL and OPL for the engine operations to assemble and publish. This greatly simplifies the previous method of designing workflows where each version required a separate workflow dedicated to its particular configuration, with separate transcoder profiles, separate automatic quality control software profiles, etc.

Modern MAM technology provides machine-to-machine integration platforms and Business Process Management workflow tools that allow today’s broadcaster to build an automated OPL engine control system to “stack” the operations that create the output media for publishing, while managing the profiles and metadata required for hundreds of media package requirements from a single control screen. And systems can even “mask” or filter master metadata collections into the proper XML configurations required by VOD systems in the field. Some of the most professional systems can automatically assemble pre, mid and post-rolls, and include graphics in the published output. These labor saving automation tools provide opportunities for revenue with little additional cost. By adopting IMF methodology, a broadcaster can have a single workflow that can turn one media CPL into hundreds or thousands of versions for distribution. And this is not just a technical dream. Starting in 2015, systems employing these IMF strategies have been deployed in the US and Europe, managing thousands of publishing operations hourly.

What’s best for you?

Interested in finding a MAM Workflow system to support these methodologies? As you investigate solutions, be careful of “IMF-ish” tools—cosmetic solutions and quick adaptations that mimic the IMF methodology, but are not fundamentally built to support SMPTE requirements. Also, beware of great marketing. It may be very appealing at first glance, but ask for demonstrations and then compare systems. Ask the hard questions: Does the solution support the IMF macro language? Does the system have a well-designed and thorough system for addressing “logical” versions of media - CPL media configurations that exist as possible combinations but never created until a work order requests them?

Jay Batista, Tedial, General Manager, US Operations

Jay Batista, Tedial, General Manager, US Operations

When investigating a versioning solution - a logical extension to the published workflow - pay close attention to how the Library system ingests materials. Seek a MAM with a well-crafted and flexible acquisition service line, a workflow that automatically ingests media, associated files and metadata in a manner that supports the IMF component organization, as well as addresses specialized requirements such as EIDR (Entertainment ID Registry) metadata collection, orphaned media workflows and strategies for associated files to be automatically connected to the master asset through the acquisition workflow. The best MAM systems are extensible and scalable, especially the database—take a hard look at the database that underlies the design and ensure that it has no limits, and can easily add and index fields, and display them on user screens. In the real business world, the best systems support a phased approach to deployment, with modules that support growth and add new functionality as needed.

Expanding OTT and VOD platforms are driving the industry toward applying IMF strategies to manage these real world distribution problems, and these innovative applications enable today’s broadcasters and media producers to quickly adapt their systems and support the new formats and version requests that arise frequently.

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