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Netflix working on optimizing multi-platform video delivery

Thanks to the multi-platform, multi-device global media landscape, content owners today need to make and keep hundreds of different versions of the same movie or TV episode to be delivered to different devices and in different formats. To combat this, Netflix is taking a pure Silicon Valley approach to it experimenting with an Interoperable Master Format (IMF), to help streamline the production of these formats. It will help movement between studios and content distributors like Netflix.

“As Netflix expanded into a global entertainment platform, our supply chain needed an efficient way to vault our masters in the cloud that didn’t require a different version for every territory in which we have our service,” said Netflix’s Chris Fetner and Brian Kenworthy, in a recent blog post.

IMF is a raw video file with metadata about audio files, geo-blocking instructions, and other useful bits of data. It makes the need for multiple complete versions of a specific title unnecessary. “For a title like ‘Narcos,’ where the video is largely the same in all territories, we can hold the Primary and the specific frames that are different for, say, the Japanese title sequence version,” the blog said. “This reduces duplication of assets that are 95% the same and allows us to hold that 95% once and piece it to the 5% differences needed for a specific use case.”

The IMF standard was recently developed by SMTPE, and only a handful of studios are currently using it.

Netflix also said it will release a set of tools to tackle issues such as transcoding IMF files to Digital Production Partnership (DPP) format, a set of editing tools, and the ability to convert IMF files to files that can be sold on Apple’s iTunes platform. That last one’s an interesting move, considering Apple itself doesn’t support IMF – yet. Netflix is hoping that by giving the studios help in developing tools that utilize IMF, the format will catch on throughout the ecosystem. That will eventually help Netflix too.

“We saw IMF as a shared opportunity in the digital supply chain space,” the blog said. “In order to support IMF interoperability and share the benefits of the format with the rest of the content community, we have invested in several open source IMF tools.”

It’s another example of how Netflix is able to best traditional content services by approaching issues with tech start-up-colored glasses. Netflix’s foundation was metaphorically poured in Silicon Valley, not in Hollywood nor the world of telecommunications.

And it’s just one example of Netflix’s open source work. To date, the company has released over 150 open source software projects. Earlier this year, it released what it calls video multi-method assessment fusion (VMAF), which helps determine which codecs works best in real viewing experiences under varying conditions. And this month, Netflix released a new test footage production, called “Meridian,” that is particularly heavy on new types of video technology that are difficult to preserve in compression and codecs. The film was shot in 4K and HDR at 60 frames per second, with a peak brightness level of 4,000 nits, and with audio that uses Dolby Atmos. Netflix is offering the film under a Creative Commons license in the hope that others will use the short film to perform real world tests on how 4K and HDR video content streams to devices.

The production has been well received by technology providers. “Netflix’s ‘Meridian’ is helpful in that it provides us with another reference source in our library of video clips, that has been professionally shot using the latest equipment and workflows,” Brightcove’s VP and principal media evangelist Matt Smith said in a recent blog post about the title. “There are some very expensive and robust tools on the market with which we use to test and configure compression schemes. That Netflix has provided another professional sequence to help with this process is great.”

Written by Charles Hall, this first ran in Rider Research’s Online Reporter.

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