M+E Daily

Standardization Figures Prominently at ESCA EDGE Conference

By Mel Lambert

The thorny subject of standardization for both digital file formats and companion metadata figured prominently during several sessions at the seventh-annual ESCA EDGE conference, which was held Thursday at the Beverly Hilton Hotel in Los Angeles.

As John Crosier, SVP of digital architecture and delivery at Cinram, acknowledged, “It’s like trying to tame the Wild West.”

Reliable and cost-effective delivery of streams and downloadable files between vendors — and ultimately, to consumers — depends upon a consistency of file structures and digital packaging. The Digital Entertainment Group (DEG) has initiated a number of subcommittees to look at Universal Media Identifiers (UMIDs) and other standardization strategies, while supporting the ongoing activities of the Entertainment ID Registry (EIDR), a recently launched global resource for cataloging commercial digital video/audio assets, including motion-picture and television content. DEG and MESA served as co-producers of ESCA EDGE.

Content producers and content distributors face different but complementary problems, Cinram’s Crosier stated. For film studios, he said, “the primary pain points are content creation, which lacks standardized metadata; fulfillment, [which involves] a
number of distribution formats; and control of cash, where we still encounter manual POS and royalty statements.” For retailers and vendors, Crosier said, the primary pain points include “quality control, with incorrect asset descriptions and lack of QC; metadata, with avails [advertising slots within content] and title [descriptors] maintained by different groups, making matches difficult; and product requirements, with inefficient methods for repurposing assets across territories.”

Dan Miron, EVP of worldwide supply chain management at Warner Home Video, and chair of the DEG’s Supply Chain Committee, described the activities of the group’s three new Task Groups. “The Universal Media Identifier Task Group is identifying methods that connect internal and external processes, orders, deliveries, avails, etc., and will work with HITS [the Hollywood IT Society] and EIDR to develop a media identifier.” The DEG’s Standards Task Force, meanwhile, is focused on examining candidates for standard file formats and metadata, together with package standards. Miron said that the Standards Task Force is busy “collecting metadata samples from EMA, DDEX and the film studios,” and looking for commonalities. Initial findings from the DEG task groups, expected by the third quarter of 2011, will establish a framework for future collaborations.

Delving deeper into the work of the DEG Standards Task Force, Thomas Stilling, executive director of operations at Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment, identified more than 220 different field names.

“In terms of field alignments between studios and metadata sources, we also found that 67 percent of the marketing fields are similar but different, [while] 41 percent of the technical/package fields are unique, and 56 percent of synopsis fields are unique,” Stilling said. “Consequently, a high level of manual effort is required to match files, while incomplete metadata leads to incompatible product pages and promotions. Metadata errors can to lead to missed sales, including pre-orders and lack of merchandizing.”

“We are meeting monthly to define ‘must-have’ fields,” added fellow task-force member David Tischker, VP of client operations with Sony Pictures Home Entertainment. “We are also creating a schedule for analyzing creative assets and packaging specifications.”

The DEG’s UMID Task Force also is making good progress, reported Eric Iverson, VP of information technology at Sony Pictures Entertainment, and Jeff Stevens, VP of digital archives with Warner Bros. Technical Operations. Stevens said the task force plans to finalize its Product Requirements Use Case documentation by May 24, and initiate Phase 2, including EIDR implementation, in June.

Several conference presenters emphasized the importance of the Entertainment ID Registry. “EIDR will be of great help in defining standardized metadata labels for our TV Guide On Screen initiatives,” stated Adam Powers, VP of technology at Rovi. “It will also benefit [Best Buy’s] CinemaNow,” an online portal powered by Rovi’s RoxioNow. EIDR “will enable consumers to access the same media on different platforms with totally different delivery mechanisms,” said Patrick Donovan, VP of marketing at Digitalsmiths. Such a degree of seamless interoperability, Donovan said, “cannot work without unique IDs” for each media element.

Mel Lambert is principal of Content-Creators.com, a Los Angeles-based consulting service.