SMPTE to publish IMF for broadcast and OTT delivery

Before NAB in April there will be a new file format available for facilities, broadcasters and online publishers. Based on the existing Interoperable Master Format (IMF), the new specification will be adapted for online delivery rather than the Hollywood Studios cinema and archive focus of the original.

New IMF file format for broadcast
New IMF file format for broadcast

SMPTE joined forces with the UK’s Digital Production Partnership (DPP) on the project which will specify breakdown of different elements — video and audio packages, composition playlists (CPLs), and output profile lists — with references to all relevant SMPTE standards.

Why do we need another file format?

Broadcasters are looking to target new audiences and territories and to monetise their programme assets over a much longer period of time. While they are doing that they also need to maintain quality. So, the need to keep high-quality files for re-versioning for new broadcast and online deliveries is more important than ever.

For UK and US broadcasters there are two primary use cases: incoming, meaning buying content masters for further compliance processing; and outgoing, which is sales mastering. The goal is to implement a system that addresses the myriad metadata requirements of television and OTT while fitting into broadcasters’ sizable existing archives of content.

Different versions

There shouldn’t be too much different between the core workflows for IMF version 1 and the broadcast/online version but there are changes. For instance, a broadcast version will need to transport advertising break information to support stitching of assets at playout.

The TV community also has additional metadata to describe content genres, audio layouts and identifiers that are not used within the cinema world.

There is also a missing unifying aspect to IMF which has prevented it from becoming a true mass-market format. The new version should address this.

IMF delivery standards

Each studio still has their own IMF delivery standards, both input and output specifications, and the broader content creative and delivery community feels that IMF is really more like 5-6 different flavours of a similar standard, since they have to make IMF Flavour A for Netflix, IMF Flavour B for a major studio and IMF Flavour C to feed their finishing/transcoding tool.

In addition, componentized media workflows like IMF are very powerful and drastically simplify operations, but they are very complex in the back end. It requires a good platform and adapted management tools to enable simple, cost-effective solutions to ingest, manage, search/find/retrieve and transform IMF for the necessary workflows. And very few platforms have developed the data model and toolset.

A key requirement for facilities and broadcasters to meet this spec is to have a mastering system compliant with IMF. Rohde & Schwarz’ CLIPSTER meets that need. Since version 5.9 it offers a complete workflow from mastering, versioning to merging and refining IMF packages, which has been continually improved and augmented up to the current release 6.5. And as a member of the SMPTE IMF group, Rohde & Schwarz actively drives the development of the format.

Look out for more information as SMPTE publishes the IMF for broadcast and online in the next few weeks.

Posted by Adrian Pennington, technology jorunalist. January 30, 2018.