IMF (Interoperable Master Format) Reaches the Mainstream

People in a small movie theatre, but the screen is just glowing white.

At this year’s HPA Tech Retreat, two full hours on Wednesday were dedicated to IMF (Interoperable Master Format), the SMPTE standard for the file-based interchange of multi-version, finished audio-visual works.

While IMF and file-based media frameworks in general don’t scream edge of the seat excitement, the time dedicated to the topic shows the importance of IMF to the industry.

Why does the M&E industry need IMF?

In the rapidly evolving environment of file-based media, IMF provides the structure needed for easier collaboration, just like a shared language.

The essence of IMF is creating a single master version of an asset (television show or movie) from which you can derive all versions (different languages, different ratings, different size screens, etc.) using instructions contained in that master package. In the past, masters for these different versions would all have been created as separate flattened files, even though they were all made up of largely the same elements.

One significant benefit of IMF is reduced storage and management costs. With IMF, there is less master data to move and store, saving room for the large files that get passed around during production and post production and eventually go into building a single IMF.

Overall, IMF standards being adopted across the industry is good for everyone. On top of reduced transfer, storage and management costs, IMF entering the mainstream helps to standardize and simplify business-to-business file-based final content distribution workflows and, in the process, reduces frustration and wasted time.

Other, more interesting subjects like AI and Blockchain were more buzz worthy at the HPA 2018 Tech Retreat. However, in my opinion, IMF emerged as the clear unsung hero of this year’s conference, serving as a good reminder that it’s mostly the boring improvements that we quickly take for granted that become the most important elements of the technologies and processes we rely on every day.


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