Avails, Ratings and Digital Retail: A Metadata Standards Update

LOS ANGELES — To open up the annual Metadata Madness luncheon March 9 at the Smart Content Summit West event, Philip Hodgetts, metadata guru and president of metadata firm Lumberjack Systems, offered up both notes of praise and concern for the state of data in media and entertainment today.

Metadata isn’t considered nearly as important as it should be, especially for production, he said. And while today people appreciate its importance compared to just a few years ago — with more budgetary consideration and tech advances like machine learning — but more work needs to be done, with people still focused mostly on the distribution side.

“We need to have metadata coming into everything earlier in the process,” Hodgetts said. “A future without accessibility [to the data] is a future we don’t want.”

But progress is being made, evidenced by the updates shared by the leaders of several industry associations, who offered up the latest on the metadata standards and best practices they’re undertaking, in order to better serve the metadata needs of their members.

Don Dulchinos, executive director of the Entertainment Identifier Registry (EIDR), offered up how EIDR is helping to improve the digital supply chain for both content companies and digital retailers, specifically around avails, “allowing for the information [of a title] to be better automated,” Dulchinos said. “When EIDR is used with other standards (including the Entertainment Merchants Association’s avails and MovieLabs’ Media Manifest) it reduces the processing time for when that content gets to market on the order of 20 to 30 times.”

He shared that just this month, Google announced that YouTube transactional reports to suppliers regarding performance have been improved to include EIDR IDs, with the EIDR ID now used in the initial publishing of the avail for a piece of content, and all the way through to financial reporting on the performance of the content.

Dulchinos added that as of the end of 2016, there were more than 1.5 million alternate IDs (studios IDs, IMDb tags, etc.) included in EIDR, with 58,000 added in December, and 466,000 added overall for the year.

Over at the Entertainment Technology Center at the University of Southern California ([email protected]), Joshua Kolden shared how Cinema Content Creation Cloud (C4) — the open source framework for content creation, using remote resources — is helping promote discoverability of content, by simply providing a universally unique ID for any file or block of data.

“There’s a way with C4 to create a relationship — with no structure on top of it, no database, no UI, nobody telling you how to enter data — with other discoverable data, ID [items] in a way that can’t be extracted from the thing that was identified,” Kolden said. C4 gives the industry the ability to have an ID of any item, and anyone who’s ever handled that item (say, a script) can find the ID of it, without needing an internet connection or any external services or software, “and it’s the same ID regardless,” he said.

Eric Hanson, digital media industry evangelist for the Entertainment Merchants Association (EMA), shared how EMA is striving to make the digital supply chain for video content more efficient, reliable, scalable and secure. But as it stands today, that supply chain is “clunky, and highly manual,” Hanson said.

“As an industry, we’re spending hundreds of millions of dollars every year with delivering basic services, and there are hundreds of man hours people won’t get back for their lives from searching for Excel spreadsheets, caption files and other video assets,” he said. “It’s our vision to free people up from those things.”

And, Hanson stressed, automating the digital supply chain revolves around metadata, and while “we have standards for this, we still have a long way to go,” he said. While there’s now specs for the standardization of inputting metadata — Media Entertainment Core (MEC) and the Media Manifest Core (MMC) — the industry is still working on standardizing the output of metadata — where retailers can order the assets that come with content — something EMA is working toward in 2017.

“We’ve made great progress, [and] we have an avails spec that’s been adopted by a wide part of the content industry,” Hanson said.

Dave Lindsay, a member of the Technology and Operations Committee for DEG: The Digital Entertainment Group (DEG), and director of operations strategy for The Walt Disney Co., said that as a result of surveying DEG membership, the group has identified numerous initiatives for 2017, including wider adoption (and understanding) of avails standards and more familiarity with EIDR and the use of EIDR in revenue reports.

“Another initiative we’re undertaking is ratings,” Lindsay said, pointing out that MPAA ratings in the U.S. are easily understood, but many international territories lack ratings bodies, making it difficult to define content across platforms. That’s something DEG, working with EMA, wants to dive into for 2017, he said.

And DEG is also taking on a new initiative, dubbed Platform Profiles, a way to describe the capabilities of different platforms. Which digital outlets can handle HDR 10 vs. Dolby Vision, and how bonus features vary between outlets, are examples of what DEG is looking to help the industry more easily navigate with the undertaking. “When you go into a Best Buy or Target and buy a disc, it’s a very consistent experience,” he said. “It’s very different when you buy a digital version, on say Amazon vs. Vudu vs. iTunes. … We want to gather all these attributes that describe what a partner’s capabilities are, and put that together in a database.”

Lastly, Randal Luckow, board secretary for the Association of Moving Image Archivists (AMIA) and director of archives and asset management for HBO, shared how the group’s Cataloging & Metadata Committee {“Our most important committee of all”) is serving as a forum for members to share knowledge, via partnerships with standards bodies. And while AMIA isn’t a standards body, its members come together to share wide-ranging thoughts on what’s needed in their respective businesses to improve the use and implementation of metadata, Luckow said.

“Our committee members come from a broad range of institutions where they’ve implemented a gamut of metadata standards and in-house best practices,” he added.

Approximately 350 media and entertainment reps were on hand for the Smart Content Summit West. The conference was produced by the Media & Entertainment Services Alliance (MESA), with Ad-ID, the Coalition for Innovative Media Measurement, the Hollywood IT Society (HITS) and the Smart Content Council serving as association partners. Conference sponsors included MarkLogic, Amazon Web Services, TiVo, GrayMeta, Microsoft Azure, Nuxeo, FilmTrack, NeuLion, Avanade and Crawford Media Services.