Some say the annual HPA Tech Retreat in Palm Desert, CA shapes the agenda for the rest of the year in the media industry, and as it relates to program distribution, 2018 is no exception.
We’ll likely look back at 2018 as the year that IMF (the Interoperable Mastering Format) went from an emerging capability to full-blown industry reality. IMF is a file-based framework for the exchange and processing of multiple content versions of the same high-quality finished work. One of the primary benefits of this innovation being that version files reference media from the original master, limiting storage overhead and delivery time.
This year’s HPA Tech Retreat hosted an Innovation Zone with a focus on IMF, where multiple vendors showed how interoperable IMF has become, with mastering, management, QC and playout all working together, a reality. IMF moved beyond talk at HPA 2018…it became a working set of production-ready capabilities.
Taking a step back…
The transition to file-based media brought a massive transformation in the production and post-production business, removing the restrictions of real-time processing from workflows and introducing a real boost in efficiency. In the 10 years since, however, collaboration, the workflows themselves, and media operations have remained relatively similar, even while the demands have started to change dramatically…
We live in a multi-multi world!
In listening to our customers and talking with many others in the market, we’ve been hearing that media businesses are getting squeezed with the increase in multi-platform distribution. While the creation of new outlets is a boon for the business as a whole, the reality of the acceleration of release windows, coupled with the increasing number of outlets, is really leading to some interesting considerations:
- How do I create more versions for less money per version?
- Is it possible to increase version creation and distribution outlet deliveries automatically?
- Can my single-purpose work tracking system and silos of media processing equipment work together?
- How do I bring my creative, production and marketing teams together to share information and media to avoid duplication and increase our offerings?
- What do I do with IMF?
Seriously, what can be done about creating more versions?
At Dalet, we’re big believers in automated processing, driven by recipes designed by people that know the business best. If you start with operators and administrators looking at the overall customer work that has been coming in, it is possible to build media recipes that can be automatically fulfilled as the media supply chain operates, including:
- Audio languages
- Subtitle languages
- Metadata transformations
- Packaging instructions
Once recipes are defined, it really becomes as simple as connecting media processes and work operations to fulfill the recipe and create versions that go beyond simple transcodes and include everything necessary, including the proper metadata, images and folder/ZIP structures to make a delivery to Netflix, Comcast, Hulu or others.
Of course, a modern system that can handle the creation and implementation of these recipes and integrate with the equipment already onsite is key to making this work well. Dalet Galaxy has both the back-end and the user tools that enable your operators to define the best workflows and recipes for your business.
Moving toward automated version creation
To start, it really takes a firm evaluation of what is happening ‘down on the farm’ so to speak. In a lot of our discussions, we’re hearing about processes and systems that worked really well when they were implemented 10 years ago, and just aren’t designed to keep up today, particularly single-purpose work order tracking systems that don’t have any integration with media processing systems. So, while it can look like there is a bunch of automation available to the operation, there is really just a bunch of manual interaction required by operators to kick off the automated processes, and when order volume increases, it is difficult to get the supply chain ramped up, since it is dependent on human interaction.
These types of scenarios are best solved by starting to utilize media orchestration & management solutions (also known as business process management, BPM and workflow orchestration), which allow a single platform to ride on top of the existing media processes, interacting with the post operations’ existing equipment, so that, for example, media files are automatically categorized for work, assigned to the proper tasks, sent into a craft edit environment for final processing, transcoded and sent to the proper distribution channel. Of course, these orchestrators can’t run completely automatically, as the post business relies on a high degree of review and approval processes for human operators to inspect media as it progresses through the supply chain, and the best systems provide user task panes with customized user interfaces to not only fulfill the manual review, but also utilize the operators’ input to continue down the proper automated path.
For example, if a review reveals that the subtitles received for the content are actually Cantonese instead of Mandarin, the workflow engine should allow the operator to send a request back to the subtitle provider to redeliver and wait till the updated content arrives. And in the same token, content that is deemed as ready to proceed should be automatically transcoded to the proper formats, packaged with the metadata, and sent to the required distribution outlets, based on the original work order, all without any further operator interaction.
The two keys to being more efficient here are:
- Implementing a system that can drive your media supply chain, automatically, end-to-end, utilizing your existing equipment
- Ensuring that this system can also interact with your users and utilize their input to drive automated media processes
It is certainly possible to house a central catalog or small Media Asset Management (MAM) system to pull this off, and then join that with your existing work order system to try and get these teams together. What we’ve seen, though, is that since operators have to utilize different systems to move between receiving work, and actually doing work, and then marking work complete, they really stick with a disjointed setup like this. Even worse, rarely are the systems purchased capable of handling user access control lists so that each team is able to find what they need without disrupting the other’s work.
The solution here is to make sure that you have a central system that can handle user permissions, assign access to media when and where it is necessary and allow teams to receive and perform work all from one interface.
The IMF standard allows the creation of a single original version with a full set of media essence, where each additional distribution receives a supplemental package that just contains the differences of that version from the original.
In the case where we need to deliver a French subtitled version of the original movie, it is only necessary to send the French subtitles and a composition that references the original version’s media assets.
Similarly, if we need to create a full-on French language version, we only need to deliver the titles, credit and dub video sequences, the French language audio track and again, a composition that references the original media.
Consequently, storage needs are massively reduced, sometimes by as much as 90% over legacy version creation! Also, IMF saves on QC cost and improves workflow automation.
However, and to make the most of IMF, media organizations need a powerful, IMF-aware asset management & orchestration platform. Indeed, as each of those supplemental versions gets delivered as a new folder in the mastering structure, organizations can end up with multiple sub-folders for each additional version in a nested structure that becomes very difficult to manage, instead of one nice flat file structure.
IMF seems to be the train that isn’t stopping. The support from Netflix has really ensured that the entire industry pays attention and considers its use in their operations. With NABA & DPP also on-board with IMF for broadcast and online, the world is continuing to move toward component media workflows in a big way.
Component media workflows are great in theory; you get to retain your media essence files in the original component format, mixing and matching them, as necessary, to create the versions for production, without the need of wasting time or storage space in conforming interleaved files. In practice, managing component media, including IMF, has become a serious challenge. At Dalet, we’ve seen everything from complex folder structures to multi-tab spreadsheets to track which packages belong with which titles from multiple providers. We believe managing IMF should be easier than that, and so, at Dalet, we’ve been building native IMF management into our MAM and Orchestration platform, Dalet Galaxy, to make sure that facilities can easily match up IMF packages and create the deliverables they need (IMF or otherwise).
This is why Dalet has developed dedicated features to make IMF management as simple as possible, with two platforms available for two different use cases:
- Dalet AmberFin – for customers that need IMF processing: IMP generation, validation, CPL transcoding and delivery.
- Dalet Galaxy – for customers that need enterprise-scale IMF management and orchestration.
Of course, Dalet Galaxy and Dalet AmberFin work perfectly together, with Dalet offering a single unified solution that allows you to create IMF, ingest IMF titles, manage the relationships between original and supplemental versions, and deliver IMF packages for your distribution needs.
For our customers that need to submit IMF to Netflix, Dalet AmberFin’s IMF workflow allows you to create a simple IMP with all required files in the IMP from any input.
Dalet AmberFin will take care of the JPEG 2000 transcoding, the audio track labeling, the Timed Text Markup Language (TTML) creation and the IMF metadata, as well as submission of the package to Netflix Photon, and coming soon, delivery directly to Netflix Backlot, all in one, orchestrated workflow. For those that are wondering, AmberFin can be used for ProRes IMF also!
Dalet AmberFin can create complex CPL packages as well, and since it works as a distributed transcoder, it can scale both on-premises or in a cloud environment.
Customers with large quantities of existing IMF content can utilize the Dalet Galaxy platform to tie original versions and supplemental packages together, giving a simple browse and search capability for titles with multiple versions.
Dalet Galaxy harnesses the power of Dalet AmberFin to parse the IMF packages, and retains all essential packaging information, including the Composition Playlist – known as CPL -, in the title versions.
The Dalet Context Map, allows a visualization of the relationships between the different tracks, different CPLs and an IMF title.
Never before has there been a tool specifically built for versions like this in an asset management system. And Dalet built this specifically for versioning customers like studios and post-production houses.
Delivering an IMP from Dalet Galaxy is as simple as selecting the version desired. The IMP package will be created by resolving all media references in the CPL for the selected version, and these packages can be distributed over any of the existing connectors built into Galaxy, including Aspera, Signiant, File Catalyst, Amazon S3, Azure Blob Storage, FTP and network file systems.
Users can also utilize the workflow engine to drive a rendering of a composition for iTunes delivery as ProRes or any other format deliverable that you might need in your operation.
What about the investment?
That really depends on the vendor a facility works with. At Dalet, we work with two kinds of operations:
- The ones that love to get the cost out of the way up front and then amortize that cost over time on their projects, and;
- The ones that need systems that can be priced out per project, on a lease or SaaS basis
For example, we know that in the post-production world, there are only a handful of facilities that fit in that first category, so we’ve implemented methods to bring our media systems into their environments as OpEx, either inside their facility, in the public cloud like Amazon Web Services (AWS) or Azure, or as a hybrid of the two.
With Dalet IMF solutions, media organizations have the ability to fulfill the entire promise of IMF. Not only can they save storage space by moving to supplemental versions rather than storing the entire package, they also have the ability to target distribution outlets with IMF requirements (such as Netflix) while retaining the capability to deliver the same content to any other vendors.
Want to go further?