Building a true IMF media factory

Tedial Version Factory screenshot
Julián Fernández-Campón, Tedial
July 7th 2016 at 1:35PM : By

Julián Fernández-Campón, solutions director at Tedial, believes SMPTE’s Interoperable Master Format (IMF) is the ideal solution for automating content delivery

Traditional linear playout and on-demand viewing has evolved more quickly than many expected into the concept of ‘content everywhere’ via smart TVs, tablets, smart phones and PCs, at least in digitally mature markets. To keep up with the pace of this consumer behaviour, broadcasters need to have a number of key processes for content enrichment, multi-format, multi-platform delivery, and increasingly media business reporting. In turn, MAM systems have evolved to manage users as well as large amounts of content and related media and additional data such as audio languages, subtitles, pictures (posters, artwork, etc.) and other ancillary information needed for non-linear distribution. The challenge is how to evolve these systems using standards for this vast and varied content delivery.

This rapid evolution means that broadcasters and content owners require media tools that provide continuous access to content throughout their business. Removing the unnecessary, and at times overwhelming, complexity caused by multiple workflow states, wrappers and codecs enables easier discovery of related media. By providing improved tools, this complexity is replaced by a logical view of the content and workflow with direct access to the different components for validation: forms to easily select audio, metadata enrichment for packaging and delivery of content in the correct format.

To attend to this growing need and to maximise and automate the content delivery operation, modern MAM/workflow solutions should adopt SMPTE IMF methodologies to provide a true media factory. The media factory is used to process and transform content coming from external providers or produced internally according to each specific platform where typical tasks include: re-wrapping, transcoding, segmentation, DRM, generation on ancillary XMLs and all the related media needed for the platform.

Laying the foundation

The goal of building a media factory is to simplify and automate (as much as possible) content delivery to multiple platforms, focusing on non-linear issues due to their inherent complexity.

This introduces two challenges, the efficient content management in the MAM to easily process and manage all the media components and the definition of delivery activities. An initial approach could be defining a MAM’s own structures to support this, but why reinvent the wheel? By staying abreast of and adopting SMPTE standards, the new Interoperable Master Format or IMF methodology can provide the ideal solution.

In order to take advantage of IMF methodologies, the MAM/workflow system must have the ability to support extended metadata for efficient content management. This is why leading MAM software companies have begun to implement a true object relational database as their core product platform, to facilitate this expansion of connections and relationships into hundreds and thousands of reliable connections. The first design foundation required to support an IMF media factory is efficient content management to easily manage and reference the components to be delivered.

The second design foundation employed to build a media factory is the use of IMF methodologies themselves: CPL (composition playlist) to define which components are going to be delivered (audio languages, subtitles, etc.), media essences stored in the MAM, as a reference of the source formats that will be used for the delivery, and an OPL (output profile list) to define the transformations using a set of third-party engines for transforming the media.

To be truly effective, the media factory must be built to automatically support millions of input file configurations and provide millions of output deliverable configurations. Such a media factory design can be configured for any particular company, depending on their unique business requirements.

Operational elegance

It is imperative that the application used for the operation of the media factory is intuitive and abstracts the operator from the complexity of delivery tasks. In keeping with the idea that simplicity is elegance and easiest for operators, a single screen can be used to manage components. As an alternative, this single screen operation can be driven by an API and connected to the broadcaster’s back office systems, whether a traffic system, content management system, programme rights system or work order system. The definition output of this screen can be named as a template and adjustments can be saved as new templates so that essences can be scheduled and configured through the media factory by calling for the template. Thousands of templates can be pre-configured from a single interface or built on-demand by a “work order” system integration. The components of an IMF driven media factory are based on these steps.

To be truly effective, the media factory must be built to automatically support millions of input file configurations and provide millions of output deliverable configurations

Once these components are in place, the unique broadcaster defined media factory is completed by stacking media processing engines in a delivery workflow configuration, where each component is defined by the broadcaster’s business requirements and the outputs can be quickly configured employing the IMF templates. This allows a single workflow design to support millions of automated operations, in an “N-input to N-output” configuration, completely driven by metadata, by external back office systems through an API interface or manually from the single IMF template screen.

These IMF delivery workflow templates will be executed by the system downstream controlling all the media processing engines according to the priorities established by the business planning and scheduling upstream.

Future proofing

Unifying all these processes and jobs in a single platform ensures that all the resources are managed jointly and provide the broadcaster the visibility to optimise their processes and maximise the performance to ensure that Service Level Agreements and commitments are met and that there are no bottlenecks in the overall system. Management can focus on exceptions and growth control, and new requirements can be quickly and easily added to the automated system.

By adapting SMPTE standards and methods to modern MAM and workflow designs, Tedial has deployed these true scalable media factories in locations around the world, including tier one players, where its systems are processing thousands of automated media versioning requirements per day and in some cases by the hour.

It’s clear that IMF covers the requirements for the transformation and delivery of content, plus adds a ‘future proof’ value as it prepares the broadcasters to be ‘IMF-ready’ whenever production companies start delivering content implementing this standard. The dream of a fully automated media factory is realisable today.