EXCLUSIVE: Hollywood Bears Down on Industry-wide Distribution Standard


LAS VEGAS -- Hollywood's technology community has made great strides toward creating a standard distribution master that would be used for all playback devices and platforms, from TV to the Internet.

Development of a draft blueprint for such as master, called an Interoperable Master Format (IMF), was completed late last year through the participation of studio technology leadership and other Hollywood stakeholders under the umbrella of the nonprofit Entertainment Technology Center at USC.

And following positive feedback from the community, IMF is on its way to becoming a global production standard.

The Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers, the global standards-setting body, has established an IMF working group with a goal of standardizing the format.

"To have a common way to pass data would streamline (production and distribution)," said SMPTE vp engineering Wendy Alysworth, who also serves as senior vp technology at Warner Bros. Technical Operations. She added that this will ultimately result in cost savings for content creators and distributors.

"We'd like to stop shipping disc drives and tapes if we could," Alysworth added.
Annie Chang, vp postproduction technology at Walt Disney Studios, will chair the new SMPTE committee.

"There are too many formats, and not all are standardized," she told The Hollywood Reporter.

According to Chang, the plan is to fast-track a basic-level IMF standard, which would include HD and 3D, this year. Further out is the development of a second level that would include features such as 8K resolution as a way to "future proof" the IMF.

Members of the ETC committee will be available to offer input during the standardization process. Disney vp production technology Howard Lukk, who chaired the ETC's IMF development committee, said, "We believe content creators are hardest hit (by the current way of working), so having them come together for a consensus seemed the best way to make this happen."

"We've been quite fortunate to have had recognized industry leaders from the studios and throughout the community providing input and feedback on the specification," ETC president and executive director David Wertheimer said.

"That feedback will help give the IMF momentum as it heads into the formal standards process at SMPTE."

Editor's note: THR contributing editor Carolyn Giardina occasionally blogs for the ETC website.