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Signiant Series

Metadata Everywhere: Simplifying IMF Adoption with Media Shuttle

Signiant introduces Metadata Everywhere, a new series about our innovative Software-Defined Content Exchange (SDCX) architecture and how it facilitates interactions with both media essence and metadata across disparate and distributed storage environments. 

Since its launch in 2012, Media Shuttle has become the standard for media companies seeking to provide end users with a means of easily and securely accessing a shared pool of content. Media Shuttle’s growth is indicative of its ability to successfully support a much wider trend in the industry—consumer demand for access to content across platforms, devices and geographic regions. This same trend drove the development of the Interoperable Master Format (IMF) standard from the Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers (SMPTE).

In today’s multi-platform world, the distribution of a single finished title typically requires the creation of dozens of separate versions that tailor the content in a variety of ways—from including audio tracks in different languages, to increasing accessibility with subtitles or captions, to complying with national or regional standards, to providing technical variations, including 4K, HDR and immersive sound. The IMF standard was designed to streamline this customization process by defining a single master bundle of finished audiovisual assets from which a multitude of versions may be derived. Each IMF package contains video and audio essence files, metadata, and instructions for building various versions. 

The unique architecture of Signiant’s SDCX SaaS platform helps realize the power of a metadata-intensive format like IMF. Media Shuttle users gain fast, secure access to complete IMF packages, or to individual component assets within that package, via the SDCX platform’s data plane. In parallel, metadata extracted from IMF packages is available to Signiant’s intelligent control plane, where it can be processed, used to drive actions and inform decisions. These two system elements work in concert to simplify and speed up file-based content distribution workflows.

The Challenges of Multi-Version Content Distribution

Without the use of a standardized mastering format like IMF, individual versions of an asset must be created as separate flattened files, even if they are largely built from the same audiovisual elements. The process of creating and delivering multiple versions typically leads to significant challenges for content producers and distributors: 

  • Inefficient workflows: It’s both time-consuming and tedious to distribute a large number of versions by delivering each as its own linear audiovisual master, and workflows of this type are prone to errors.
  • Steep transfer and storage costs: Moving and storing dozens of customized, fully rendered master versions increases distribution costs and often requires the setup and management of additional storage resources.
  • Asset management complexity: The need to separately store and retrieve many versions of a parent asset was one of the key drivers of large-scale, complicated, expensive asset management systems. 
  • Quality impairment: Creating and distributing multiple masters can result in degraded image or audio quality, or a loss of information about the original production.

How IMF Works

IMF aims to minimize these issues by defining a standard that bundles media components, along with the recipes required to create multiple versions of the master asset, into a single IMF package. This approach makes it practical to build individual versions on the fly, directly from the original source material. 

Along with several administrative files that specify the package contents, the key file types included in an IMF package are as follows:

  • Track files each contain a single kind of video, audio, or data essence. 
  • Composition playlists (CPLs) contain the information required to compile the track files into a complete media asset.
  • Dynamic metadata files are useful in certain applications such as HDR optimization. 

Using this component-based approach, it’s possible for a single IMF master to support the wide range of variables that are routinely involved in modern media distribution.  All of the necessary information is available to build finished assets with various combinations of the following:

  • Timelines – TV censor, airline, theatrical
  • Resolutions/frame rates – 1080p24, 720p50/60, SD
  • Aspect ratios – original, 16:9, 4:3
  • Languages – 30+ languages, subtitles and dubbing
  • Distribution formats – broadcast/satellite/cable, discs, VOD, OTT

IMF allows for the representation of a multitude of versions in a minimum number of ways. Components can be reused across multiple compositions, with IMF storing the differences rather than a hundred or more slightly varied copies of the same asset. The benefits include faster, more efficient mastering and delivery, lighter transfer and storage costs, and fewer quality control passes.

Media Shuttle Simplifies the Use of IMF          

Media Shuttle is perfectly suited to IMF workflows. At its core, Media Shuttle provides users with fast, secure, reliable access to a shared repository of content from anywhere in the world. IMF was created for this same type of workflow, enabling individuals in different areas of a business, or in different parts of the supply chain, to derive the targeted versions they require from a shared pool of source material. The most common deployment model for this use case involves an IMF master stored in the cloud and accessed via a Media Shuttle Share portal. In-country team members can then choose and download just the specific composition components they require to generate a local version of a title.

In recent years, as more Media Shuttle customers came to recognize the potential of the IMF standard and adoption levels increased, Signiant began to hear feedback about some challenges that customers were encountering in practical application of the standard. Although IMF is very efficient and powerful, it is also very technical in nature. Media professionals tasked with day-to-day interactions with IMF packages found that it just wasn’t user-friendly. Media Shuttle is known for its ease of use ⎯ so could Signiant help solve these problems?

Signiant addressed customer concerns with new Media Shuttle functionality that makes it easier for those accessing IMF packages to identify and construct the versions they need. Now, when a user opens an IMF package, Media Shuttle extracts descriptive, human-readable names of the composition playlists (CPLs) from the metadata and displays these rather than IMF’s raw, and often cryptic, CPL filenames. Then, when a user selects a specific CPL, Media Shuttle delivers only the files needed to create that composition. As noted earlier, all of this is made possible by the unique SDCX architecture that underpins Media Shuttle.

Opening an IMF package and selecting a CPL in the Media Shuttle interface.

Fast and Efficient Multi-Version Distribution

By using Media Shuttle to send and access the content in IMF packages, customers can resolve many of the challenges commonly associated with producing and delivering all the required versions of a finalized media asset. Using IMF and Media Shuttle together delivers significant benefits:

  • Maximized delivery speed: Coupling IMF and Media Shuttle reduces the amount of time between finishing a production and getting it to audiences. IMF processes simplify and speed up the creation of multi-version packages, and Signiant’s proprietary acceleration technology ensures fast delivery of the content. Media Shuttle is well known for its capacity to reliably transfer large files, even across long distances or highly congested networks.
  • Global availability: In order to drive IMF workflow efficiency, parties all around the world must be able to readily access a shared pool of content. A multi-tenant SaaS tool like Media Shuttle is the best way to meet this need.
  • Ease of use: In addition to the targeted IMF feature described above, Media Shuttle has many other attributes that help media enterprise stakeholders to optimize these workflows. Features such as broad language support and delegated administration make it easy for nontechnical portal administrators to oversee day-to-day operations. 
  • Data integrity: Creating a single IMF master, rather than dozens of customized versions, reduces the potential for error and ensures that video and audio quality are maintained for each version. As always, Media Shuttle delivers the content faithfully and accurately, byte for byte, without compression or data loss.

Continual Evolution of Media Shuttle

Media Shuttle’s IMF feature is a clear example of Signiant’s commitment to meeting the needs of the media industry. As practical application of a powerful new standard increased, we listened to the market and responded with enhanced functionality. Keeping up with significant industry trends and specific customer requirements is essential in today’s fast-changing media world. Signiant is working in partnership with our customers and with standards bodies such as SMPTE to ensure that Media Shuttle will continue to be the ideal tool for fast, efficient access to content across platforms, devices and globally distributed locations.

This brief is the fifth installment in our series, Metadata Everywhere. Other chapters explore, in more depth, the ways in which Signiant’s SDCX SaaS architecture works with the media essence and metadata across disparate and distributed storage environments. Learn about the many different ways media organizations can utilize the Signiant metadata framework to enhance productivity and optimize their technology stack. 

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