Live From SMPTE Conference: Netflix Embraces IMF for Format Interoperability

Christopher Fetner, director of content partner operations, Netflix, made a strong case for SMPTE’s IMF (Interoperable Master Format) for content creation and distribution in a time of change and uncertainty. With IMF, studios and others can more easily meet the needs of a burgeoning landscape of formats and deliverables without creating dozens, if not hundreds, of versions of content.

“We see IMF as the cornerstone for our global expansion,” said Fetner, speaking at the SMPTE Technical Conference in Hollywood. “We are in more than 40 countries now. IMF can optimize the experience and efficiency of content delivery, and it works.”

In layman’s terms, IMF is a voluntary specification for an interoperable set of master files and associated metadata to enable standard interchange and automated creation of downstream distribution packages. Some of the benefits should be a single, interchangeable master-file format, automated packaging and delivery, minimization of storage, and a simplification of postproduction transcoding.

Fetner said the goal is to cut the global-content–redelivery rate from 7% to the 1% required during the days of HDCAM tape-based content delivery. The 2011 tsunami in Japan hastened the move away from tape-based delivery because tape shortages made file-based delivery the only realistic option.

But file-based transport introduces a large number of problems, including increased risk of mismatched audio and files.

“At Netflix, we call it version-itis, a sickness where you don’t know the DNA of the vaulted asset and fulfill needs,” Fetner explained. But, with IMG, files can be conformed from the master file.

He said that Netflix hopes to adopt IMG by 2016 so that it can provide a clean parent-child lineage of assets for easy delivery of secondary audio channels, captioning, and other data to the appropriate customers. It also will lower the burden on the engineering team.

Fetner also sees a day when the file will be sent in full and keys related to an asset will allow functionality, such as a different language track, to be accessed when needed.

“At that point, there will be a reduction in overhead to send out the full IMF file and then a dramatic impact on the overhead at operational groups,” he explained. “We will need to build trust around the technology, but it will be similar to what Accelerated File Transfer technologies initially faced.”

IMF also, he believes, will transform the nature of Hollywood studios and others by requiring them to become more akin to a Silicon Valley company, with content residing in the cloud and transcoding services hanging on the ends.

“IMF is already here,” he added, “and we have begun innovation to expand support for it.” He expects the support of a number of technology partners — including Technicolor, Deluxe, Refine, Visual Data Media Services, and Fotoke — by March.

“We are poised to adopt IMG quickly,” he said. “It is essential to our goals as we can leverage file-based transport, reduce our data footprint, and build a foundation with low-cost, one-pushbutton delivery so we can fling the doors open.”

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