There is no surefire way to recognise real change, but extending the IMF format could have a significant impact on the industry, writes DPP Managing Director Mark Harrison.

Could we construct an algorithm for change in the media sector? Such an algorithm could take a lot of the fun out of major trade shows, since it would filter out hype and vapourware. But – contrary to the revolutions we promise on an annualised based – history tells us we only get a major process change moment every once in a while. So, if we knew how to recognise real change, it could have a significant impact on how we invest our time and money.

D1 Mark Harrison  DPP on IMF

DPP Managing Director: Mark Harrison 

I have a feeling that the extension of the Interoperable Mastering Format (IMF) beyond the world of the major studios and into broadcast and online environments – in the form of a new specification from the DPP and SMPTE – could represent one of those change moments. Why? Because if one imagines what a change algorithm might look like, the new specification would score pretty highly.

Of course, this is a ludicrous exercise; but since AlphaGo Zero is otherwise engaged right now, let’s consider the elements of a faux-scientific means of predicting significant industry change moments, and see how the brand new SMPTE TSP 2121 IMF Application DPP (ProRes) fits in.

First would be the distance, measured in workable technology, between vision and reality. The smaller the distance, the closer the change. This is a calculation that might have muted some of the wilder claims around AI.

Second would be existence of consumer demand – where demand is evidence drawn from actual consumer behaviours rather than assumed ones. Interactive TV would have stumbled early at this hurdle.

Third, do you have to put something on your head? The lower the volume of head furniture required for successful change delivery, the higher the probability of success.

Fourth, is there a genuine problem – either in the consumer or business world – that needs solving? This measure is actually pretty binary. Commonly agreed problems tend not to be on a grey scale.

Fifth, does the change mobilise the whole supply chain? This is a necessary but not sufficient condition. The need for the whole supply chain to adapt could be a sure-fire sign of impracticability (we’re looking at you second screen). But conversely, most significant change requires the co-ordination of different actors for its delivery.

“The change challenge is huge; but the community is collaborating – a sure sign that change is inevitable”

And finally, does it help you save money? If it does, at least the finance director won’t stop you.

So now let’s see how IMF Application DPP (ProRes) fares against these exacting measures.

First of all the distance between vision and reality is moderate. IMF, as a standard, already exists and has been implemented. IMF Application DPP (ProRes) is a constrained version of that standard. That doesn’t make it a piece of cake, but it certainly isn’t science fiction.

What about consumer demand? Are children tugging at the elbows of their parents beseeching ‘why can’t we have IMF’? Possibly not. But those same children may well now be consuming versions of their favourite content that have been modified for family viewing, or put into their native language, or made suitable for their culture.

Do you have to put anything on your head? Not unless you like consuming media while wearing a hat.

Is there a genuine problem that needs solving? You bet. That same versioning of content that consumers now expect comes with a huge process overhead. Successful titles now run to hundreds of versions, and making each as a separate master – probably in UHD – takes time, money and astounding amounts of storage. IMF generates a single master, plus all its variables, so that they can be combined in whatever sequence a version requires.

Is the whole supply chain needed to deliver the change? Perhaps not the entire chain – but a good proportion of it. What’s significant for IMF Application DPP (ProRes) is the range of companies that are keen to work together. The DPP’s IMF implementation community already consists of around 50 companies, ranging from content creators, to post-production facilities, manufacturers, broadcasters and platforms. The change challenge is huge; but the community is collaborating – a sure sign that change is inevitable.

And finally, the finance director has no good reason to object. There will need to be short-term investment of course; but, as a DPP report recently demonstrated, the business benefits are substantial.

Perhaps there’s one more element to the change algorithm: the changes that matter are rarely the ones that sound exciting. A panel session on AI or blockchain is likely to draw a larger audience than one on IMF. But maybe that’s because those who might attend the one on IMF are busy making it happen.