Delivering Broadcast IMF with Multi-Partner Workflows on AWS
By Jonathan Solomon, Principal Partner Solutions Architect, Media & Entertainment – AWS
By Julian Fernandez-Campon, CTO – Tedial
Even as direct-to-consumer content continues to grow in popularity, linear broadcasters continue to provide the most efficient distribution from one to many.
However, content producers are delivering to tens if not hundreds of distribution partners, with a variety of languages, subtitles, and even versions. This leaves content producers challenged with the growing number of files they need to provide to broadcast licensees.
The Interoperable Master Format (IMF) is a standardized delivery model that reduces content footprint while allowing a unique deliverable per customer.
Using IMF, content producers can reduce the number of files delivered to distributors while maintaining compliance and delivering localization. First published in 2013, IMF is standardized by the Society of Motion Picture Television Engineers (SMPTE).
Tedial is an AWS Partner and leading provider of media and content management solutions designed to maximize business efficiency and profitability. The company has been creating applications tailored for the media and entertainment (M&E) industry since 2001. It focuses on solutions for companies with media asset management (MAM), workflows orchestration, and systems integration, and has been helping customers deliver IMF since 2016.
In this post, we will describe how IMF simplifies M&E broadcast workflows from ingest to playout. We’ll show a multi-partner approach, including quality control, asset management, transcoding, and playout.
IMF in Broadcasting
IMF is a container format for file-based storage and delivery of finished movies, episodic content, and advertisements. An IMF container, referred to as a “package,” typically consists of multiple essence files.
The essence (video, audio soundfield, subtitles) is stored in individual media files (“track files”) and the instructions for synchronizing these media files are stored in a separate file, the “composition playlist.” This approach means the large media files can be reused across multiple playlists, each representing a different version of the content.
The composition playlist is used by the distributor (in this case, the broadcaster) to assemble the playback files specific to their facility. IMF containers include all the files and information needed to assemble these playback files for any distributor, without the need for a unique file for each distributor. This reduces processing and storage costs, and simplifies distribution, especially at scale.
Figure 1 – IMF contains the composition playlist and associated essence track file.
In contrast, AS-11 is defined by the Advanced Media Workflow Association as a flattened media file that contains only the necessary tracks for the playout of a single version by a broadcaster. That is, no extra audio, video, or metadata tracks are included.
As a component-based media, IMF reduces the complexity associated with creating, delivering, and maintaining tens to hundreds of unique versions, while AS-11 provides a standard playout deliverable. When combined in a complementary workflow, IMF can easily be used to create the AS-11 file for playout.
While vendors have worked for over a decade on ensuring successful use of IMF for delivery, relatively little effort had been made with integrating delivery with playout, in part because of the cost and complexity of interfacing multiple hardware solutions on premises.
At the 100th NAB Show in Las Vegas, the IMF User Group showed a practical cloud-based, multi-vendor, ingest-to-playout solution built on AWS. Working as part of the IMF User Group (IMF UG), the industry forum for users and implementers of the IMF standard, eight vendors running on AWS created an automated workflow to ingest, composite, and process an IMF file for playout using AS-11.
The IMF for Broadcast initiative set out to demonstrate IMF is ready for cloud and terrestrial broadcast. This process, from receiving content through handing off to the playout system, is operationally efficient, scalable, and needs only run when content is first received, or later updated, and acts as the upstream process to broadcast workflows.
Using a common Amazon Simple Storage Service (Amazon S3) bucket across the workflow, the IMF composition file is first validated. The validation report is checked into a Media Asset Manager (MAM) for future references, and the composition file is read by the transcoder which assembles the components from the IMF container and creates the AS-11 file for playout.
In this demo, we are also creating an adaptive bitrate (ABR) stack for quality and compliance review. The playout service receives the AS-11 file as part of the playback preparation. We’re also showing real-time playback of the unprocessed IMF based on a composition, and a dynamic adaptive streaming over HTTP (DASH) playback of the transcoded file.
Figure 2 – Flow diagram for the IMF UG NAB demo.
Ingest and Quality Control
The process starts with the IMF package written to Amazon S3. The package is detected by smartWork that triggers a workflow in Vanera Quasar for audio/video and package-level verifications, including a cost-per-lead-based analysis, validating the package and making sure the necessary files are present in the package.
Quasar creates a JSON or PDF report showing pass or fail, and noting the results of each verification. Finally, smartWork checks the quality control (QC) report into the MAM, associating it with the IMF package for later human or programmatic review.
Business Process Management and Transcoding
Tedial Evolution manages the package in Amazon S3, extracting technical metadata from the essence files and links additional generated metadata such as the QC report. Next, smartWork triggers downstream processes including media transcode and playout scheduling.
Marquis Medway seamlessly orchestrates requests across the media supply chain, triggering AWS Elemental MediaConvert to transform and transcode the essence files into several formats, including the AS-11 for playout and DASH for preview.
In addition, AWS Elemental MediaLive is used to generate a network device interface (NDI) media stream for playout. Finally, Evolution archives the IMF packages with an H.264 proxy available for browsing.
Channel Origination and Playback
Playback and channel origination is handled by Rohde and Schwarz Gallium, which receives the AS-11 for playout, adding logos and branding for broadcast. The output of Gallium feeds the transmission and distribution pipeline for the channel.
We included two players in this demo for viewing the IMF package. We chose the open-source dash.js player for viewers to experience the composited file created by MediaConvert. This output shows the unique file created from the CPL.
Interoperable Master Format (IMF) simplifies delivery from content creators to content distributors. Using centralized cloud storage, the component-based delivery reduces the storage needed, while still delivering contracted unique content to each distributor.
At the same time IMF is gaining adoption as the delivery model among content creators, AS-11 is gaining traction as a standard playout deliverable. This is a natural combination supporting sustainability.
Multi-partner solutions like the one demonstrated in this post help content creators provide region or audience-specific content to the tens or hundreds of broadcasters and distributors they deliver to, and enables delivery to the scale of customers seeking the content.
IMF distribution for AS-11 playout is possible with IMF experienced vendors, and with the flexibility of AWS you can experiment with this workflow at a low cost. If you’d like to learn more learn how IMF simplifies cloud-based media and entertainment broadcast workflows, check out the recording from the NAB Show on the IMF User Group website.
Tedial – AWS Partner Spotlight
Tedial is an AWS Partner and leading provider of media and content management solutions designed to maximized business efficiency and profitability.