IMF: An Open Standard with Open Tools

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. A few years ago we discovered the Interoperable Master Format (IMF), a standard created by the Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers (SMPTE). The IMF framework is based on the Digital Cinema standard of component based elements in a standard container with assets being mapped together via metadata instructions. By using this standard, Netflix is able to hold a single set of core assets and the unique elements needed to make those assets relevant in a local territory. So for a title like Narcos, where the video is largely the same in all territories, we can hold the Primary AV and the specific frames that are different for, say, the Japanese title sequence version. 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 format also serves to minimize the risk of multiple versions being introduced into our vault, and allows us to keep better track of our assets, as they stay within one contained package, even when new elements are introduced. This allows us to avoid “versionitis” as outlined in this previous blog. We can leverage one set of master assets and utilize supplemental or additional master assets in IMF to make our localized language versions, as well as any transcoded versions, without needing to store anything more than master materials. Primary AV, supplemental AV, subtitles, non-English audio and other assets needed for global distribution can all live in an “uber” master that can be continually added to as needed rather than recreated. When a “virtual-version” is needed, the instructions simply need to be created, not the whole master. IMF provides maximum flexibility without having to actually create every permutation of a master. Continue reading...

By Chris Fetner and Brian Kenworthy