Content Versioning is Out of Control

At Technology Summit on Cinema here at NAB, Walt Disney’s Howard Lukk said there can now be a total of 35,000 possible versions of a movie that will have to be generated to serve all possible ways the movie can be scene. This is apparently based on a permutation (or multiplication) of all of the variables in creating a particular version.

This presumably means cinematic versions, packaged media versions and versions for cable, satellite, broadcast and internet distribution. While this high may be possible, it is also unlikely, but nonetheless is in the thousands and represents a huge challenge for the industry.

For theatrical distribution for example, Walt Disney’s Leon Silverman said they typically need to create over 100 masters of each film. That includes versions with different audio mixes, different languages and different platform specific needs.

To illustrate what they are doing he described two movies in his talk. The new movie “Planes” for example, had 126 different masters with one of the plane characters having a different name and artwork depending on what country it was screened in.

He also showed a clip from the movie “Frozen” playing the song “Let it Go” where every verse was sung in a different language. There must have been 40 different languages with each performance created by a difference signer, yet they were blended perfectly to sound seamless. Incredible! He also lamented the versioning that is required to market a film requiring dozens of thumbnail images that must be used on various web sites.

Overall, he described what he called the “new post post world order,” which he said has changed the landscape for just about every aspect of the way movies are made today. He started his talk by noting that the workflow of cinema is increasingly being merged with the TV production workflow and that it may be hard to tell the difference in the future. He then gave details on ways the industry is complex (versioning being one aspect), connected, global and secure. While the title of the session was “From Camera to Consumer”, he renamed it “From Camera to Netflix”.

Filmmakers must work in a connected, networked global environment, but he did not seem particularly concerned about technology being able to handle the needs going forward. Security is more of a concern for Disney with isolated networks, multiple security protocol and audits done to help protect their IP. Success or failure here can have huge impacts on the studio and careers as well.

His description of what is needed was so incredible it led others on the panel to hope they never had his job.

How one gets to 35,000 versions is still a little unclear, but presumably includes all the different aspect ratios, video formats, audio formats, broadcast formats, Internet formats and may include encoding formats and all of those variables as well. While a studio would not necessarily have to produce all those versions, someone somewhere would adding enormous overheads to the process.

One solution to the format issue is a project that was also described at the event called IMF (Interoperable Master Format). This is an industry-wide effort started by the major studios that began as a Business to Consumer version of the Business to Business cinema formatting standards effort that is now called DCI (Digital Cinema Initiatives). Speakers from Disney, Sony and Fox described their efforts to create a SMPTE standard (now issued) and to implement the format at their studios.

The basic idea is to be able to have a “core framework” that consists of the main visual aspects plus a series of “modular application” that are plug ins to the format that add specific functionality like codecs, specific resolutions and frame rates and other aspects. This is all managed by a Composition Play List (CPL). This allows the generation of localized versions from a single file format.

Basic structure of IMF package

While IMF doesn’t reduce or eliminate versioning needs, it does help to create a file structure that is much more efficient in the way the versions are created and has a huge impact on storage space needed for all the versions.  Both Sony and Fox cited incredible storage savings (on the order of 25X) for projects they have initiated using IMF.

Sony’s project for example, was to create 100 UHD resolution titles that they could use in the roll out of their UHD/4K TVs, which they have now done. For Sony, this meant going back to the original masters of each film and remastering a finished film in UHD resolution in the xvYCC/rec. 709 color space and encoding in YCbCr using the IMF App 2 (broadcast profile level 5) at a 400 Mbps average and 800 Mbps max rate.

As shown in the graphic, Sony has now created IMF versions of 104 feature films and 140 TV episodes.  And the space savings are incredible. The uncompressed versions of these films is a whopping 1,001 TB while the IMF version are only 43 TB.

By Chris Chinnock, Display Central