INTEROPERABLE MASTER FORMAT (IMF) € THE BENEFITS AND LIMITATIONS

4th Dec 2017

Interoperable Master Format (IMF) is promising to be a universal distribution format that could significantly decrease the file versions that are needed by video publishers all over the world to deliver the end product to the viewer. This news has led to understandable excitement across the industry, but it’s not ready yet for universal rollout, and publishers are looking into the benefits and limitations of IMF in the meantime.

What is Interoperable Master Format - IMF?

IMF is a standard introduced by the Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers (SMPTE) a few years ago, to enable Netflix to ‘hold a single set of core assets and the unique elements needed to make those assets relevant in a local territory.’

According to industry experts, the goal of the driving forces behind IMF is to ‘provide a single interchangeable master file format primarily for distribution.’ However, the experts also realise that IMF is only currently viable as a format for final delivery, and not universal in the acquisition and post-production processes.

IMF is eventually expected to replace the necessity for the provision of multiple versions for every territory in which services are provided. XML is used by IMF standards to represent and define different versions, and uses profile lists to provide common audio, image, colours and macros.

The IMF container format has the strength to focus on content playback, in addition to its main audio and video benefits. Using XML to generate a CPL, that can create a single version of a completed IMF content composition, IMF playback functionality can deliver an immediate benefit of content management and the use of automation to reduce costs and increase efficiency within the syndication process across platforms, audiences and territories.

Storage and distribution benefits and limitations of IMF

IMF has also piqued the interest of publishers with its promised storage capabilities, given that it can behave similarly to a desktop folder to store assets in a single location, and adapting for universal distribution in a full package, also reducing instances of asset duplication.

This process effectively binds together ‘complementary’ assets, such as:

  • Multiple language files
  • Multiple camera angles
  • Subtitles
  • Timed-text files

However, this method of storage has been recognised by industry experts as creating difficulties during the editing process. This adds weight to the belief that IMF will be most successful as a content delivery standard, rather than being used as a container for acquisition and post-production.

Experts agree that the use of simple MXF variants for storage and distribution of the physical content, the use of XML files could ‘add an extra layer of complexity.’

With the media streaming industry accelerating in growth significantly (and with ever-increasing pace), IMF is continuing to garner excitement and interest, but all experts agree that the IMF structure should remain flexible and scalable to address and manage the new audio and video formats, such as 360° video, VR, HDR, high-res and more.

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