Live from SMPTE: Netflix embraces IMF for format interoperability

Christopher Fetner, Netflix director of content partner operations, made the strong case for SMPTE’s IMF (Interoperable Master Format) for a content creation and distribution industry facing a vast amount of change and uncertainty. But with IMF studios and others can more easily meet the needs of an ever-growing landscape of formats and deliverables without creating dozens, if not hundreds, of versions of content.

“We see IMF as the cornerstone for our global expansion,” said Fetner. “We are in more than 40 countries now, and IMF can optimise the experience and efficiency of content delivery…and it works.”

In layman’s terms, IMF is a voluntary specification for an interoperable set of master files and associated meta-data to enable standard interchange and automated creation of downstream distribution packages. Some of the benefits should be a single, interchangeable master file format, automated packaging and delivery, minimisation of storage, and a simplification of post-production transcoding.

Fetner said the goal is to cut the global content redelivery rate from 7% down to the 1% redelivery rate that was required during the days of HDCAM tape-based content delivery. The 2011 tsunami in Japan hastened the move away from tape-based delivery as tape shortages made file-based delivery the only realistic option.

But file-based transport introduces a large number of problems, including increased risk of mismatched audio, files and more.

“At Netflix we call it version-itis, a version of sickness where you don’t know the DNA of the vaulted asset and fulfill needs,” explained Fetner. But with IMG you can take the master file and conform all other files from that master.

Adoption plan

Fetner said that Netflix hopes to adopt IMG by 2016 so that it can provide a clean parent-child lineage of assets in order for secondary audio channels, captioning and other data to be easily delivered to the appropriate customers. It also will lower the burden on the engineering team.

Fetner also sees a day when the file will be sent in full and then keys related to an asset will allow functionality, like a different language track, to be accessed when needed.

“At that point there will be a reduction in overhead to sent out the full IMF file and then a dramatic impact on the overhead at operational groups,” he explained. “We will need to build trust around the technology but it will be similar to what Accelerated File Transfer technologies initially faced.

IMF, he believes, will also transform the nature of Hollywood studios and others by requiring them to become more akin to a Silicon Valley company with content residing in the cloud and transcoding services hanging on the ends.

“IMF is already here and we have begun innovation to expand support for it,” added Fetner. By March of 2015 he expects the support of a number of technology partners, including Technicolor, Deluxe, Refine, Visual Data Media Services and Fotokem.

“We are poised to adopt IMG quickly,” he said. “It is essential to our goals as we can leverage file-based transport, reduce our data footprint, and build a foundation upon with low-cost, one-push button delivery so we can fling the doors open.”

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