Versioning: Creating More With Less

Versioning: Creating More With Less

Content is global

In the age of instant access and binge-watching, content creators and distributors have new challenges on their hands. The increase in delivery platforms and the worldwide syndication of content means the average video has to be delivered in multiple versions. Not only are numerous formats required, each piece of material might need to be tailored to a geographical area, a demographic… an individual. This has led to unprecedented increase in video content and companies are having to look at novel ways to overcome the problem…

When Stranger Things 2 was released on Netflix late last year, the localisation teams had their work cut out for them. The global phenomenon was published in all 190 countries on the same day. It was translated into nine different languages and subtitled in a further twenty-two, allowing as many people as possible around the globe to experience the show easily and enjoyable at precisely the same time. The dubbing/subtitling process for a show such as this is not as simple as finding someone who can speak the language. In order to maintain the shows integrity, to allow it to be a great as it should be and to embody all of the aspects that the writing duo had intended, such as the “double-Stephen style” (King & Spielberg) or the constant stream of pop culture references, the localisation teams had to get creative in each of the 31 versions being produced.

Have a glimpse at some the different language versions in this video:

Stranger Things 2 – Language Versions

On top of this, Netflix is available on 1700 different devices! So it’s no surprise that the team at Netflix have invented the term “versionitis” to describe their ongoing battle with multi-version and media management.

Outside of Netflix, other broadcasters are experiencing their challenges, with the need for multi-versioned content within tight timeframes. In 2013, Dr Who released episodes in 94 countries, with dubbing and subtitling in 15 different languages. Again, people wanted to watch the episode, in a language-accessible version, at the same time as everyone else around the globe. As you can imagine, this type of intense multi-version delivery has generally been reliant on a number of dedicated editors carrying out a lot of labour-heavy manual processes. If you are looking to get maximum return on investment when selling your content worldwide, this level of versioning is mandatory!

The pressure and timing constraint of on-going versioning creates substantial financial and labour strains for companies. Not just TV/Film production companies and distributors, but many companies who are creating video content – whether for advertising, training or “how to” videos, to name a few. Most content that is being created is, more than likely, going to be consumed by a whole variety of people, across a whole range of platforms, each of whom may want something different out of it.

We had a fascinating conversation with one of our clients last week which highlighted this issue. They had been commissioned to create 2000 training videos for an international hospitality chain but then found out that each video had to be created in 7 different languages… That’s 14,000 videos – which is a LOT of content to manage, edit and store!

The globalisation of video means that key video assets can no longer afford to be localised. They must be readily available and usable for repurposing and re-versioning worldwide as and when is necessary.

Dovetail this with unique delivery specifications for metadata, thumbnails etc, the accelerated release window and every operation is left with some difficult questions to answer:

  • How do I create more content?
  • How do I reduce manual intervention?
  • How do I integrate my many existing workflows?

IMF (Interoperable Master Format)

In steps IMF, a new standard that has the potential to address these big questions.

“IMF is a file-based framework designed to facilitate the management and processing of multiple content versions (airline edits, special editions, alternate languages, etc.) of the same high-quality finished work (feature, episode, trailer, advertisement, etc.) destined for distribution channels worldwide.”  Netflix, Versionitis

Essentially, an IMF is a standard specifying individual component, all of which come together to create a complete IMF package. Having access to this master format enables the creation of tailored versions for different regions, languages, platforms etc. without having to create entirely new master files for every version. Every different market or version requirement can be formed as its Composition PlayList (CPL) using the components contained in the IMF package – avoiding unnecessary duplication.

The best way to describe IMF is to imagine that you go to the shops and buy all the ingredients for an omelette – eggs, cheese, ham, tomato, mushrooms and you have all of those in a bag (for life, obviously). Out of the contents of this bag, you can take a look at your recipe book and create a ham omelette, a cheese omelette, a mushroom omelette or even a cheese and mushroom omelette. In this analogy IMF is the bag, the contents of the bag are the video essences, dubs, subtitles, the recipe book is the CPL and the omelettes are the delivery files!

Here at SP, we are big fans of IMF! The potential available when working in conjunction with an IMF-aware asset management and orchestration platform are fantastic and can lead to significant time and cost savings. However, it is worth noting that IMF only goes part the way to solving this issue. Netflix are pioneers in the adoption of IMF, but it still couldn’t solve all their problems. Let’s go back to Stranger Things (also – if you haven’t seen it, you should!) In season 1, there is a crucial scene where different light bulbs are associated with different letters. The light bulbs light up one at a time to spell a keyword which is integral to the plot. When creating versions for different regions, the Netflix localisation team needed to spell a word that was relevant to the local audience, while still keeping the tone of the show. This is a creative decision and one that has to be made by someone with excellent local knowledge, which, at this point, is well outside the practical applications of IMF. The best way to avoid issues like this is by planning for IMF at the start of production, meaning all objects that are shot and delivered into post-production are able to take advantage of IMF and automation. Creating these business processes with a full understanding of ‘Camera to TV’ is what Support Partners have been doing for major broadcasters over the last 15 years, feel free to get in contact if you would like impartial advise .

However, until this is common, industry-wide practice, there will always be a need to review and make creative edits manually.

IMF also comes with its costs; specialist products will be needed not just to create IMF files but also create various file formats derived from IMF for the localised versions. While this investment might be the best course of action for broadcasters and content distributors, it may not be the best investment for those working in other industries at this point….

Where does the automation come in?

We recently completed a piece of work for a global advertising agency. One of their most significant clients is a brand with thousands of franchises across the USA. Each month, they are required to version around 300 videos with individual branding for each dealer branch. This was a labour and time intensive process that had been using up far too much resource. Our solution managed reduced operating costs by 50%.

What this project highlighted to me is that not every customer is going to be in a position to invest in new asset management, media orchestration system, or technology such as IMF to streamline their production. These sorts of decisions require a lot of consideration and often span across many business units, meaning they often cannot be made quickly or easily.

It also highlighted to me that each customer has a unique way of working and for a lot of companies there are existing investments with an ROI case behind them that need to be worked with. So if you are in this situation, you may feel that there is nothing you can do. But that’s not the case!

Objectively reviewing every part of a workflow and understanding which steps can be automated and which processes can be integrated together can go a long way to help overcome the time and cost issues associated with versioning. Going back to the Global Advertising agency, their whole process was based around Smartsheets – so to enable easy adoption, we decided to use it to drive the automation for transcoding, overlaying and slate insertion. Doing so, reduced their need to invest in proprietary products and by coupling it with open-ended platforms, such as Azure, meant that it was dynamically scalable to spin up and spin down on demand, only paying for what they need. A secondary benefit was that the solution was familiar, leading to the smooth adoption of the new technology.

As with IMF, we realised that there might be scenarios where an editor is required to make subtle, artistic changes. To get over this, with each completed job an XML sidecar is created to enable the editor to open the complete project in Premiere, in a local studio, relinking to the original assets.

As long as the environment is understood, the goals are clearly defined, and you have a creative outlook, versioning is possible with minimal CapEx investment!

Things get even more interesting when you use technology to break down organisational barriers. Often it can look as though there is a lot of automation in place when, in reality, manual actions are required to start all of these silos of automation. Therefore, when you have to create umpteen versions of a film/series/promos/training videos, the process will still not be easily scalable. Long-term savings can be made by integrating vital operational tools (such as Salesforce or Dynamics) to work order systems; be that a multi-tab spreadsheet or an asset management system. Linking these and understanding trends through capturing data points and applying analytic algorithms using tools such as Salesforce’s Einstein will drive true operational cost savings right the way through the production chain.

The key takeaway is that you will not need to change everything if you have a workflow that is already working for your team. Benefits come when you objectively analyse your workflow and determine which parts are indeed valid and necessary, and which can be enhanced and automated…. and Support Partners are pretty good at that!

Media Management

So we already know that there is a lot of content being created for versioning which takes a considerable amount of time to produce. We have also established that there are technologies and standards out there to help automate many of the processes. But we are still left with questions around how we store, manage and distribute this content (I will only touch on this briefly now, as it is a whole blog in itself!)!

This is where IMF can shine – one file to rule them all!

We have seen first hand on customers sites where editors have created brand new projects for a bespoke version of a show and then stored it in the wrong place – not only causing content to be duplicated but also confusing everyone involved in the process! IMF makes this very simple by creating only one file where all versions are derived. Not only does this simplify the process of finding and managing media it also reduces the amount of storage needed – a 75TB folder soon becomes 3TB!

As previously discussed, this may not be ideal for everyone – so what else can be done? An Asset Management system can certainly help streamline the process, but this relies on making sure all the content is data rich, so it’s easy to find (I will leave the benefits of AI and data management for another day). Adding metadata that is relevant to how your team search is a sure way to help speed up the process – but understanding this and turning it into an ironclad process is no mean feat.

Ultimately, there is no one-size-fits-all solution, and it is essential that you implement a solution based on your facility. SP are experienced in getting an understanding of the operation and working out what processes can be improved, if media management is an issue, please get in touch, we are more than happy to chat.

Conclusion

The world is changing. We want what we want when we want it. We expect instant access to everything! Content creators and distributors are having to up their game – it’s not enough to give everybody the same thing at the same time, everything needs to be tailored for the audience receiving it. This means that multiple versions of everything will continue to be required, versions with different languages, different location-specific information, different audience-preference information. In the advertising world, programmatic advertising is taking product placement to a whole new level by creating different versions of content based on your hobbies, interests and any data they have about you. Companies such as Netflix are tailoring every part of the experience to their customer, even down to the advert thumbnail that represents the content, which has been chosen based on your viewing habits. As more data becomes available about viewers, you can be sure so will the versions of content with it.

Couple this with the dramatic increase in playback devices and other emerging technologies, such as AR and VR, and the trend for versioning can only exponentially grow. We are at the tip of an iceberg, so now is the time to ensure that you have processes and technology in place to make the most of what is to come. This is what will help set companies apart, the ones ahead of the curve will be more profitable, run efficiently and ultimately create more and better-tailored content.

About Support Partners

For the last 15 years, Support Partners have been creating and supporting disruptive media production workflows for broadcasters, agencies and brands, helping to drive revenue streams and increase efficiencies.

By |2018-08-06T10:58:01+00:00June 20th, 2018|

About the Author:

With over 15 years experience in the advertising and production industry, Pete is a qualified PMI Project Management Professional. He brings with him a wealth of industry experience, having held positions with D’Arcy and the Publicis Groupe, as well as eight years serving at McCann Erickson and Global Technology Director for Craft Worldwide World Group. Pete joined SP in 2014, heading up the day-to-day operational management as well as coordination of projects, solution and support services for our international media and publishing clients. He lives in London with his partner and two fabulous children.