Media Coverage

MESA | File Format Compliance: The Next Frontier in the Cloud

Nov 6, 2012

By Lyndsey Schaefer

As the industry continues to explore its passion for cloud computing, new cloud-based models are appearing each week for steps in the broadcast and production workflow that formerly required access to on-premises systems. However, content players are moving beyond the use of the cloud for jobs like file delivery and applying intelligent cloud solutions to problematic tasks that the industry has put up with for years.

One such domain is the issue of file format compliance against published specs. As the number of content sources, formats and distribution platforms grows, so does the issue of improperly formatted content being received by broadcasters via network file transfer for playback and non-linear delivery. In a recent webcast, Turner Broadcasting’s Michael Koetter, Vice President of News Technology, cited QA around file-based systems as a “huge and escalating cost” for broadcasters.

“According to a recent survey, each improperly formatted asset received takes a material amount of time to correct, and worse yet can put deadlines in jeopardy by triggering expensive crisis level reaction,” says Ian Hamilton, CTO and Co-Founder of Signiant, a leading technology provider of media file movement solutions. “For one operations manager responsible for content ingest that we spoke with, his people can spend as much as 20 percent of their time handling non-compliant files.”

And, it’s not just the inconvenience factor. Incompatible formats, the wrong number of audio channels or unsupported encoding schemes delay all-important time to air. They exact real hard-dollar costs in terms of time, labor, bandwidth and lost productivity and hard-dollar costs in bandwidth and staff time.

A new cloud-based approach from Signiant offers the promise of consistent validation of file-based content throughout the content distribution ecosystem. Instead of doing what the majority of content players do now – validating and correcting file compliance AFTER the transfer occurs – this new approach helps ensure that the right media format gets delivered for the right platform BEFORE the transfer occurs – saving everyone time and money.

“MXF and XML files are the primary target, but we’ll be adding other file formats as customers require them. It’s useful across the board where people are exchanging media in a specific format,” Hamilton explains.

Working with standards from the Advanced Media Workflow Association (AMWA) and the Digital Production Partnership (DPP), Signiant demonstrated this new file format compliance technology at SMPTE and IBC, and will be rolling it into the company’s intelligent file movement solutions in early 2013. The asset compliance tool, when integrated into the workflow, allows the broadcaster to define and reference specifications to which any file they receive must conform before it is sent. Signiant solutions then verify the file before it is delivered. Further, the software will not allow the file to be transferred if it doesn’t reach the technical standard required.

Hamilton says that complementary tools that can be bought from Quality Control (QC) vendors inspect the file at a much deeper level, but also at much higher time and resource cost. In contrast, Signiant’s compliance tool is a pre-flight check, so it can check the basics of the file without having to have access to the entire file.

The patent-pending technology works by providing a cloud-based directory of broadcast content specifications and a mechanism for automatically checking files against a chosen specification. By registering their own customized delivery specification or referencing an industry standard, media enterprises can provide a readily accessible, uniform means of asset validation to their entire content delivery ecosystem. Significant throughput improvements at the ingest stage are possible when content partners are able to ensure compliance easily prior to submission.

Signiant’s asset compliance tool is the digital equivalent of the carpenter’s adage to “Measure twice – cut once.” By checking for compliance first, before transfer, Signiant’s approach catches many errors very early in the workflow and lowers rejection rates and errors at later stages. This saves broadcasters time and money, and provides peace of mind that the asset can enter their transmission supply chain without disruption. It also puts content contributors on alert as to expectations, and should the asset needs to be redone, allows them to be fixed before the send.

Certainly, other checking and potential correction of the content must still occur after the transfer. Yet by putting cloud technology to work proactively, the industry has the opportunity to minimize the longstanding problem of costly errors upstream of the transfer, and opens the door to greater productivity.