In just under a decade, the landscape of content distribution has undergone a seismic transformation. Gone are the days when conventional channels like theatrical releases, telecommunication networks, or cable television providers were the only recipients for a media company’s content distribution. The streaming revolution has effectively emancipated viewers from the confines of their television screens. Nowadays, anyone with an internet connection can readily access content via a plethora of compatible devices, spanning from smart TVs, smartphones, and tablets to personal computers and even most gaming consoles.
The surge in demand for streaming content across an array of devices saw exponential growth during the pandemic lockdowns. This exacerbated an ailment already afflicting content distribution services due to the rapid expansion of their sector, a condition we might dub "versionitis”. This condition is characterized by the proliferation of diverse (and sometimes incompatible) iterations of the same title, due to the increased necessity for multiple variants of the same content. This has led in many cases to disorganization and time-consuming considerations when it comes to managing and delivering content.
Consider this: if a content creator aspires to distribute a title globally, they must grapple with the intricacies of tailoring it for different distribution formats. New formats are required to accommodate TV, censorship requirements, in-flight entertainment or theatrical release, different resolutions for different network conditions and internet speeds of playback devices, varying aspect ratios for different screens, and dubbing and subtitles for as many languages as possible.
We get out of breath just thinking about it…
This task does not even tackle the multitude of versions needed for distribution across broadcast, satellite, cable, physical discs, Video-on-Demand (VoD), and Over-the-Top (OTT) platforms. The result? Potentially hundreds of disparate versions of the same master title, consuming vast amounts of precious storage space and begging for disorganization.
Thankfully, a remedy to this malady has already been devised, known as the interoperable master format (IMF). It is not a specific technology but a standard created by the Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers (SMPTE) to streamline the management and processing of multiple versions of material. This framework empowers content creators to maintain one master file per title, encapsulating video, audio, subtitle data, and dynamic metadata as individual components. These can then be integrated seamlessly, akin to cutting and pasting, eliminating the need to create a massive new file each time.
At Ateliere, we firmly believe it's only a matter of time before all media companies adopt the IMF standard.
IMF: A Brief History
While the inception of IMF was rooted in the Hollywood film industry, its appeal extended to the burgeoning Subscription Video-on-Demand (SVOD) sector in the 2000s. Netflix took notice of the component-based workflow format as a solution to their own scaling issues. In licensing almost all of their content from other owners, they found themselves in the unfortunate situation of holding a vast amount of titles in various file formats and specifications. This disorganization was beginning to cause issues with their formatting, dubbed audio, and subtitles, not to mention the ever-growing cost of storage due to inordinately large file sizes. So in 2014 they announced that they prefer all UHD content submissions for streaming on their platform to be formatted as an IMF package. By switching their workflow to become IMF-based they were able to save themselves time, money, and manual processing work, increasing their efficiency and helping them maintain their position on the cutting edge of the streaming industry.
With Netflix's preeminent status in the SVOD industry at the time, this was a game-changer for IMF adoption in the OTT space. The Hollywood Professional Association (HPA), a trade association dedicated to serving individuals and businesses providing creative and technical expertise, support, tools and infrastructure to the industry has since then actively advocated for the broad use of IMF. The HPA houses the IMF User Group, counting Ateliere among its members, alongside industry giants like Disney, Fox, Apple, Sony, Amazon, and even Netflix. As organizations like HPA and SMPTE champion the merits of IMF, the standard continues to evolve beyond Hollywood studios and find its place within the OTT and broadcasting industries.
Why IMF Adoption Is Essential for Success
Beyond the evident organizational benefits, IMF adoption can significantly reduce costs associated with data storage. Whether you use on-premises data servers or harness cloud computing technology, large media files can demand a considerable portion of your operational budget. The time and manpower required to manage such files can translate into lost resources as employees grapple with an outdated organizational system.
IMF can also play a pivotal role in disaster recovery. Whether stemming from hardware or software failures, network or power outages, physical damage to facilities (such as fires or floods), or human errors leading to security and data breaches, downtime proves to be the most substantial drain on finances and resources when disasters strike. By implementing the IMF system, your meticulously organized and condensed content library is primed for rapid restoration.
The interoperable master format has evolved considerably and continues to do so each year. Cloud computing technology is proving to be a natural fit for IMF implementation, and together as a workflow they have the potential to revolutionize the post-production industry. The COVID-19 pandemic accelerated the need for media companies to protect themselves against every eventuality, and embracing the IMF standard contributes to their readiness.
Broadcasters and streaming services alike need to find ways to navigate increasing demand and fierce competition. By harnessing IMF, they can ensure their content reaches the widest possible audience, positioning themselves for success in a constantly evolving landscape.
Does the prospect of converting your entire content library to this format appear daunting? Fear not: at Ateliere we have a detailed understanding of how to seamlessly integrate IMF into pre-existing workflows and we offer swift and effortless automated solutions for conversion.
To explore how to best treat your “versionitis” pains, contact Ateliere to implement an IMF component-based workflow.
Ateliere Creative Technologies is a leading cloud-native media supply chain company that empowers media companies and content creators to reach consumers on a global scale. The Ateliere suite of SaaS solutions incorporates cutting-edge workflows and formats to make the vision for a studio in the cloud a reality. The nucleus of the Ateliere platform, Ateliere Connect™, delivers core competencies in IMF, parallel scaling, and geographically distributed workflows. Ateliere is built by a team of experts with decades of combined experience at companies such as Amazon, HBO, Netflix, and Microsoft.