The Efficiencies of IMF

Published on in Industry Announcements / Events

Tom Coughlin, President Coughlin Associates,

SMPTE was hosting a major push on the IMF specification (SMPTE ST2067) with the Digital Production Partnership (DPP) out of England. The IMF specification was created to make the Interoperable Master Format (IMF), interoperable, so vendors and customers could use it. The IMF standard requires changes in the way that content is created in order to make greater efficiencies for broadcast and online content distribution.  In addition to SMPTE and DPP, the North American Broadcasters Association (NABA), The European Broadcasting Union (EBU), several manufacturers and end users have been involved in making the IMF specification.

At the 2018 HPA Retreat, Clyde Smith, most recently at Fox chaired a session and several breakfast discussions on the IMF standard.  The session included Andy Wilson from DPP and Andy Quested from the BBC. The IMF standard allows one set of assets in a central container that can be combined as needed to create content that will meet local regulation and cultural requirements.  

Examples of how this can save time, bandwidth and storage were that 100’s of versions of Disney’s Frozen and 80 versions of the BBC’s Doctor Who 50th anniversary special don’t have to be saved and transmitted as separate files.  Instead, IMF allows modifications in IMF compliant content by replacing one set of content with another. This also allows easy advertisement insertion that meets the needs of a particular content distributor.

The two Andy’s examined the 50th Anniversary Doctor Who special as a case for this improvement in process, bandwidth and storage. For television distribution the special had 3-2D HD versions, 2-3D HD versions and language tracks in English, Spanish, Latin Spanish, French and Italian.  For cinema distribution 2D and 3D CPP 24 fps versions were available for Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, Columbia, Denmark, Ecuador, Germany, Ireland, Iceland, Japan, Kazakhstan, Mexico, New Zealand, Norway, Panama, Peru, Russia, Sweden, Spain, Ukraine, Uraguay, the UK and the USA.  Each version was of 77 minutes duration. The TV versions were in 31 ProRes27 MB/s files and added up to 4 TB. The Cinema Versions were in 75 DCP 2K at 192 MB/s files and added up to 67 TB. The total storage capacity for storing all these versions would be about 70 TB, but over 90% of the material is duplicated many times.

The size of digital assets is increasing while the current process is not fast enough to keep up. As a consequence, there is no systematic method to store process information that follows the content. The localization process for content is slow to change frame rates, codecs, bit rates, definition and color spaces, this makes the preparation of this content for multiple markets and distribution methods onerous and slow. As a result, the quality of the content tends to suffer as well.

IMF minimizes or eliminates duplication, making the resulting content package lighter and leaner. It retains the process knowledge in the IMF container, making distribution faster and more agile and it allows preserving Mastering Quality end-to-end with a single master. As a result, IMF content is lighter, better and faster and thus cheaper. With IMF new versions can be created from a simple Composition Play List (CPL)/Output Profile List (OPL) change.  In addition, IMF can be modified as additional requirements are identified, making the asset more future proof. This creates a new broadcast model using one core asset that retains a lot more information about the assets.

IMF delivers cost efficiencies in content creation, distribution and storage. It allows automating the content supply chain, eliminates the creation of multiple versions, enables greater workflow efficiencies for global exchange and reduces QC costs. In addition, it reduces the archive storage requirements to recreate multiple versions. IMF creates significant economies of scale.

The following session featured a presentation by Tomasz Witkowski from Fishtank Cloud, went into detail on the quantitative benefits of IMF workflows. Two slides from his talk are shown below.

For features as well as TV, and particularly as the content became larger, the transcode benefit with IMF went from 1.6 to 3.7X.   The storage savings showed the same trend, going from 163% savings to 420% savings as the size of the content increased. Tomasz pointed out that IMF is not itself and archival format. It can have great benefits as long as MAM systems have the structure to take care of the IMF packages.

The IMF Specification will create new levels of automation, efficiency and quality in content delivery systems.  To do so MAM systems and content creation must make content with the ultimate target markets in mind and put these assets with their metadata into an IMF package.  IMF could do a lot to improve the quality of media content while saving money to distribute and store that content.

About the Author

Thomas M. Coughlin, President, Coughlin Associates is a widely respected storage analyst and consultant. He has over 30 years in the data storage industry. Dr. Coughlin has many publications and six patents to his credit.  Tom is also the author of Digital Storage in Consumer Electronics: The Essential Guide, 2nd edition published by Springer. Tom publishes the Digital Storage Technology Newsletter, the Digital Storage in Media and Entertainment Report, and other reports. Tom is an IEEE Fellow.

Tom is active with SNIA, SMPTE, IEEE and other professional organizations. He is Education Chair for the SNIA Solid State Storage Initiative. He is Chair of Future Directions for the IEEE Consumer Electronics Society as well as President Elect for IEEE-USA and past Director of IEEE Region 6. He is a long-standing member of the CE Society BoG and was Vice President of Operations for three years. Tom is the founder and organizer of the Annual Storage Visions Conference as well as the Creative Storage Conference. He is the general chairman of the annual Flash Memory Summit. More on Tom at:

Image courtesy of SMPTE

ProductionHUB ProductionHUB Logo

Related Blog Posts


There are no comments on this blog post.

You must be logged in to leave a comment.