Getting started with IMF


Bruce Devlin - new TV-Bay Magazine
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Why is the Interoperable Master Format still exciting?

Content is still King, but only if you can get it out to the consumer. I have just had the privilege of doing a live episode of Bruce's Shorts at the EBU IMF Workshop in Geneva. It was a privilege because I was able to talk about real world issues in making IMF compositions rather than talking about the theory of IMF. I was happy that people laughed at the jokes but even happier that people were taking notes and came up to discuss practical solutions to these difficult problems.

The audience was full of broadcasters and content owners who were learning about IMF and asking the sort of questions that make a real difference like "If there are no filenames, how do I find my content?" and "How do I find my audio if there are no channel numbers?". The answers really depend on where you are in your workflow. As a quick reminder for those who are not IMF experts, the first thing to know is that IMF is all about the composition. The composition, as shown in the diagram, is essentially the timeline that specifies the cuts-only edit timeline, references and synchronises all the media files and contains the metadata about that version of the title.

That's a pretty neat trick for a few kilobytes of XML and the fact that interoperability between vendors is good makes for a promising future. So back to the questions.

"How do I find my content?"

At small scale, lots of people store folders of files and use IMF's ASSETMAP.xml to convert file Ids into filenames. At big scale, automation makes things much more efficient and if an organisation has an IMF aware MAM then video and audio files can be archived to offline storage or tape without having to change any of the compositions. The MAM takes care of converting the Track File IDs in the Composition to filenames regardless of where the MAM has decided to put the media. Although this is a big change to workflows, most people felt that this was a good approach, especially as more content will be stored in the cloud and will be shared between many compositions.

"How do I find my audio if there are no channel numbers?"

Many of the broadcasters that I talked to spend a lot of money getting titles that they purchased modified so that they get the right channels onto the right channel number. That is so 1967. In IMF it is required to have metadata that identifies each channel and then how they are grouped. This means that finding the German left channel of the stereo pair is now trivial. You just have to match metadata containing "de" and "chL" in the Track File and the composition.

So Why is IMF Exciting? Is it just de-dupe by design?

It comes down to the money. Many of the people that I talked to tried to estimate how much of their servicing repository contained black & bars. It turns out that quite a lot of black and bars are stored along with full length copies of titles that have only minor changes compared to the original version. The promise of using IMF for new content is likely to de-duplicate the titles by design rather than having to rely on a storage layer to go and look for those duplicates.

Other commercial excitement comes from the fact that an IMF servicing repository can be read using standard products and not special ones. It means that generating air-ready masters becomes a disposable process from a common master and no longer a process that creates content to be stored forever.

Not everything is plain sailing. Although IMF significantly streamlines many processes, the fact that much of the European broadcasting chain still presents subtitles using a Teletext standard designed in the 1970s makes taking advantage of the new TTML IMSC1 profile challenging when you get close to playout.

My takeaway from many discussions can be summarised in some really simple answers from the broadcasters I talked to: "Is IMF ready today?" Yes. "Is more education needed?" Yes. "Will IMF change the way we buy and sell titles?" Yes.


Tags: iss126 | class | imf | mam | Bruce Devlin - new
Contributing Author Bruce Devlin - new

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