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Innovations in Digital Distribution

How are studios, distributors, and service providers delivering tens of thousands of titles across hundreds of territories in all the versions and with all the metadata needed by viewers? 4/05/2016 11:00 AM Eastern

In the realm of digital distribution of movies and TV, some of the most exciting developments over the next few years will not be on the screen, but in the pipes that deliver the content to the screen. With Netflix, Google Play, Amazon Video, Microsoft, Sony PlayStation, Vudu and other services now delivering to as many as 130 countries and more, some of the major developments are happening behind the scenes. How are studios, distributors, and service providers delivering tens of thousands of titles across hundreds of territories in all the versions and with all the metadata needed by viewers? Purely at a logistics and supply chain level, it's a huge challenge.

The good news is that the industry is responding in a number of significant ways. First, component-based delivery — a concept that has seemed perpetually on the horizon — is finally arriving. Years ago the film industry coalesced around digital cinema standards that govern how video, audio and subtitle files are delivered to theaters accompanied by composition playlists that sync the files for playback. Presentation of online video requires a similar collection of files: video edited for each territory, an array of language and subtitle files, original and translated artwork, trailers, images, metadata, etc.

Manual delivery and ingest of those files has been an obstacle to rapid international expansion, but the industry is taking big steps toward automation through efforts like the recently announced Media Manifest Delivery Core (MMC) specification. The MMC enables automated deliveries through a standardized, machine-readable inventory of items delivered to an online distributor for presentation to consumers. In addition, studios and streaming providers are taking concrete steps to deploy the Interoperable Master Format (IMF), a rich component-based delivery vehicle, promising even more progress toward truly automated delivery systems.

Second, standardized delivery is enabling innovative features that make viewing better and more enjoyable for consumers. Studios and distributors are implementing the new delivery specs in conjunction with machine-readable EIDR (Entertainment ID Registry) IDs assigned to specific edits of movies and TV shows. Those IDs replace proprietary ID formats and text strings that slow down automation. Together, the new delivery specs and standardized edit IDs streamline the ingest and presentation of version-level audio and subtitle files that give consumers around the globe a more customized viewing experience. Similarly, both MMC and the more comprehensive MovieLabs Media Manifest specification enable standardized delivery of extras and other bonus materials, making it easier to create new online interactive experiences for consumers. The end result of this automation is more and better localization options for consumers and a richer viewing experience.

Third, as evidence of how deep these automation efforts are penetrating existing workflows, the legal and finance teams are now jumping on board. Major studios and online distributors are aligning behind the EMA Avails specification for delivery of content availability data.

With movies and TV offered in more than a hundred countries, delivery of avails information — meaning the licensing rights, windows between theatrical, OTA and online distribution, pricing data, and other business rules for content across those many territories — can be complex. Multiplied by tens of thousands of titles with multiple versions of each required for international distribution, that complexity quickly exceeds the capacity of non-automated systems. Adoption of a standardized avails specification goes a long way toward solving that problem. Building on that effort, rights and royalties teams are also working on standardization of digital sales reporting and tracking of audio-visual data for performance rights purposes.

Kip Welch

Although invisible to consumers, these efforts are highly visible in the industry and are driven by a broad collaboration among studios, retailers and service providers working with industry organizations including the Digital Entertainment Group, Entertainment Merchants Association, EIDR, UltraViolet and MovieLabs. In combination, they will bring vital improvements to the digital distribution of movies and TV and enable the delivery of more and better viewing experiences to consumers worldwide.

Kip Welch is Vice President of MovieLabs, a technology research lab run by the motion picture industry that provides deep technical support for automation initiatives and includes them in the recommended best practices of the MovieLabs Digital Distribution Framework—MDDF.


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