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ITV leads the way on IMF implementation

DPP Members and industry observers will have noted with great interest that the DPP and SMPTE recently published a new specification for the mastering and international exchange of content for broadcast and online.

The very welcome birth of this ground-breaking specification, which will deliver value and efficiencies across the broadcast and online supply change, was born with the snappy name of SMPTE TSP 2121:2018 IMF Application DPP (ProRes). The new specification, which is much more than just a name, builds on the existing Interoperable Master Format (IMF) standard developed by the Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers (SMPTE). IMF was designed by the movies studios to address the problem of how to streamline the distribution of numerous different versions of feature film content.

But the challenge that faced the Hollywood studios is now just as real for the television and online industry. The way consumers are watching content is changing rapidly; and broadcasters such as ITV are evolving to meet that challenge.

ITV is now much more than just TV channels for the UK. It is also about online and international distribution. So ITV has been totally committed to the IMF format, and an active member of the SMPTE/DPP IMF Working Group.

Now the specification has been released it would be easy to breathe a sigh of relief and congratulate ourselves on two years of great work. But publication of the specification is the easy part. The implementation of the specification, to make IMF deliverables a reality, and to release the many business benefits IMF will bring, is the much trickier part.

Anyone who has been involved in delivering technological innovations will be painfully aware that successful implementation is wholly dependent on excellent change management and communication skills. Successful technology change is about winning the hearts and minds of key stakeholders – and that is what we will set out to achieve within ITV, with a major business change programme to run in parallel with our technical implementation.

To begin our implementation journey we set about organising delivery of a pilot IMF package for a high profile ITV drama. Delivery of our latest landmark Sunday evening drama, Vanity Fair, happened to coincide with publication of the new IMF specification. It was also shot in UHD, which made it an ideal fit for the IMF specification. Contact was made with the production company, Mammoth Productions (the company behind Poldark and Victoria), and the post production house, Technicolor. Both companies were fantastically supportive and helpful, and so our very first IMF pilot deliverable was born.

As part of the pilot IMF project ITV has taken delivery of one episode of Vanity Fair in UHD; the essence is ProRes 422 HQ MXF wrapped with 5.1 audio. This will then be usedto create an IMF Package (IMP). The IMP will contain one simple Composition Playlist (CPL), a subtitle file and a foreign language track. The plan is to take the audio files supplied for the Italian and French dub tracks, delivered as 24bit WAV files and to create another version (i.e. another CPL) with that material. The Italian and French audio tracks will be added to the original IMP as a supplemental package. The metadata will include the minimum common metadata set to support broadcast and online, as defined in Phase 1 by the DPP Metadata Working Group. During Phase 1 this metadata will be carried in an XML sidecar.

It’s still very early days but our IMF pilot is an important step on the road to full adoption by ITV of the SMPTE/DPP Specification for Broadcast and Online. Looking forward, the next production we hope to take delivery of in IMF is Snowpiercer, another high profile ITV drama due for delivery later this year. Snowpiercer is set in a future where a failed climate change experiment kills all life on the planet, sparing only the lucky few that managed to board the Snowpiercer. Let’s hope we implement IMF before that happens!

This blog was written by Bill Brown, Head of Media Standards, ITV.

Find out more on our IMF Community page.