Clyde Smith Parses DPP Developments

'Air Ready' spec to roll out at the show April 12, 2016
(Editor’s Note: Mr. Smith has generously provided TV Technology with a update on the effort to create a common program delivery format for North America based on a successful specification process in the United Kingdom. Some of the questions were crowd-sourced; others submitted by the editor, including “what else should we be asking?” Thus, Mr. Smith also has contributed to the query list here, which the editor greatly appreciates. Also, Mr. Smith will be giving a presentation, “DPP for North America - A Common File Format Specification that will Enable Evolution,” at NAB on Monday, April 18 in Room S227. )

LAS VEGAS: Last year, the North American Broadcasters Association and the Digital Production Partnership Ltd., announced a strategic partnership to promote the international exchange of content through common specifications. The work to date has built on AS-11 DPP, a common specification for file-based program delivery implemented across all the major U.K. broadcasters Oct. 1, 2014.

The introduction of this universal and standardized file delivery specification required business and technology change from all parts of the supply chain–production, post production, vendors, service providers and broadcasters.

Following their first meeting at the NAB Show in 2015, a weekly NABA/DPP Technical Group—including key DPP contacts and members from nine of the major NABA broadcasters: ABC/Disney, Bell Media, CBC/Radio Canada, Fox, HBO, NBC Universal, PBS, Time Warner and Turner—has worked to the basis of a common delivery specification for North America.

With contributions from across the NABA broadcasters, industry associations, manufacturers and the DPP on a variety of topics, the group has been working to the agreed principles that the completed work must be commonly defined, testable and unambiguous. And crucially that any differences must produce business value. The outcome being that the team has now agreed on two common specifications for the delivery of finished “Air Ready” programs, which will be launched at a special event on Tuesday, April 19 during the NAB Show.

Q: It’s a fine standard, but so are many others. Currently, each network has its own standard…
SMITH: Let’s make it clear, this is not a standard and the network delivery documents are not standards. This is an effort to create a common specification for program delivery.
Today, many major end users produce their own specifications that stipulate their requirements for program delivery. These specifications are produced by the end users themselves and not by a cross-industry team with a broader perspective and, in some areas, a greater depth of knowledge of the implementation of the specifications that may referenced in the end-user’s specification.

End-user specifications consist of business processes, production requirements and technical specifications that reference standards to specify the technical parameters of the file format, codec, wrapper, audio, video, caption, timecode, metadata and other structural requirements for the deliverable program to fulfill the interoperability needs of the end user as dictated by their infrastructure and processes.

The three elements—business process requirements, production requirements and technical requirement—are intermingled to a greater of lesser degree throughout these documents.

The technical specifications may contain issues of errors such as ambiguity, deviation or disparity. Each of these has a cost, and each effects all of the other portions of the industry from manufacturing, production, post production, fulfillment, delivery and playout at the end-user facility as well as repurposing of OTT platforms or other delivery models.

The following are examples of each and their implications:
Ambiguity in these specifications can be represented in several ways. One way is the citation of a standard without the specificity of also citing valid modes and options contained in the standard. For example, the 700-plus pages of MXF contain multiple, and perhaps incompatible, methods of including timecode as well as captioning. Few specifications delineate parameters in such a way as to absolutely and specifically define the requirements, insuring that proper human interpretation will achieve interoperability.

Deviation in these specification is another issue. The citation of standards and then adding additional technical requirements that are not specifically documented in, or supported by, these standards is also a significant problem.

Disparity is represented by differences that do not produce value in technical interoperability, creative intent and/or business requirements. This disparity may be caused by the “not invented here” or “we have always done it this way” syndromes.
These are just three areas that commonly cause problems for manufacturers, the production and fulfillment companies as well as the end-users.

Q: How does the North American Broadcasters Association DPP specification address the ambiguity, deviation and disparity?
SMITH: Ambiguity is addressed by several methods. First, because we had a year’s worth of discussions, contributions and review from very many specialists from the major north American broadcasters, manufacturers, standards subject matter experts and industry association, we brought to bear more resources than any one organization could afford to. We also greatly benefited from knowledge from the DPP U.K. experience and expertise from other broadcast organizations such as the BBC and the European Broadcasting Union.

Second, we leveraged work being done in other areas such as the Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers, the Advanced Media Workflow Association and the EBU.

The AMWA has broken down the technical requirement of the AS-11 specification into a series of building block. Each block represents a citation of a requirement as being fulfilled by a standard and the required and compatible modes or options in that standard and only those modes and options. A collection of these building blocks produces a specific and precise foundation and structure.

The NABA DPP Technical Specification for North America utilizes this block structure to eliminate these errors. These structures, while relatively new, already define the original DPP U.K. specification and new ones as well, including those for Nordic Regions, Australia and New Zealand. The AMWA is in the process of documenting the block structures required for our MPEG-2 Air Ready Masters and AVC Air Ready Masters as X-8 and X-9 and these will soon be published through the AMWA’s defined process.

Third, one issue has always been interpretation of the document. Depending on the authors detailed knowledge of standards and writing ability and well as the reader’s knowledge and capabilities, the intent may or may not be properly conveyed. We have addressed this by working with Chris Lennon of MediAnswers and the SMPTE to extend the BXF metadata model to including an XML representation of the specification. This will enable direct machine to machine communications, and in the future, will greatly help to resolve the human factor issues.

Q: What else does it address?
SMITH: Business processes, production requirements and technical specifications. The NABA DPP Technical Specification clearly separates these into the three distinct areas. The main body of the specification are the commonly agreed to technical requirements. This area is followed by appendices that permit to broadcaster to specify their business process and optionally any desired production or post-production requirement to fulfill their creative intent and business needs. The simply process for breaking down the interleaving of these requirements makes the document much more understandable and clear.

Another major achievement and a huge industry problem we addressed was building a common a common metadata set. There are so many disparities in the metadata requirements for the end users and how metadata is represented, and this is one of the biggest problem areas. These documents produced a constrained and common defined and agreed to set of metadata requirements of many, but not all, of the frequently used metadata fields.

Q: What has been demonstrated by the DPP in the United Kingdom?
SMITH: The implementation of the DPP Technical Specifications in the U.K. has been a brilliant success. It has been a phenomenal achievement that has resulted in rejection numbers that are infinitesimal, in one major end users experience, they have had zero rejected files.

The DPP organization has been very open in sharing their knowledge and experience, and we have seen the expansion of this approach into Australia, New Zealand and the Nordic Regions, and now North America with the release of the Air Ready Master Technical Specifications.

Next, we have two current activities, the Library Master and the UHD Master.
The completion of a Library Master specification is for broadcasters with a unified workflow, where they take in one file of native format and utilize it for repurposing into all other distribution methods.

The UHD Master is highly desired by broadcaster making plans for their UHD workflows and do not want the replicate the compatibility and interoperability issues we have all experienced in the past with new format specifications.
Both of these formats are based on SMPTE IMF.

Q: How will DPP affect production and distribution in the United States?
SMITH: We will need to start and educational process, but once the mass customization process has ended and there is a precisely defined specification, it will greatly improve the efficiency, reduce errors, reduce time-to-air and permit them to serve multiple customers’ needs with a single technical requirement.

Q: Can you get all the U.S. broadcasters (or all the North American ones) to agree on a single standard?
SMITH: I am not sure that we will ever get all of them and their adoption rate will vary as they look at capabilities of their existing infrastructure and their replacement cycles. However, if you take five or six complex specifications out of the market, it will greatly aid all segments of the industry from manufacturers to end users. I also think that as other regions adopt this similar structure around the world the reasons not to adopt it will become more expensive and less compelling for end users.

Q: The program and ad suppliers will, I’m sure, be delighted to go along. But we are still in an era of 720p at ABC and Fox and 1080i at CBS and NBC. CBS also insists on shoot-and-protect for 16:9, while Fox thinks it’s dumb. How do they reach universal agreement?
SMITH: These are examples of areas that produce business or creative value and should be open for the end users to support in a way that benefits them. What we have achieved it to review all the requirements, separate them into Business, Creative and Technical, and then review each for technical integrity and accuracy, after first asking the question, “does this difference produce value to the business?” I was very pleased to hear people stating that they saw no value in many of the differences and that they would make changes to a common specification, not all but many.

Q: And, if they don’t, what does DPP bring to the table?
SMITH: Those that do adopt the NABA DPP Technical Specification will benefit from the efforts of major broadcasters in North America and around the world to produce a commonly defined, and therefore widely supported format, that will reduce costs, errors and time to market. It is defined by a set of testable building blocks and will be documented in BXF to further reduce errors and enhance accurate automated processing with interoperability.

As organizations face challenges maintaining technical and operations staff with in-depth technical knowledge to develop and facilitate the administration of these complex technical specifications, they now have an alternative that was developed by knowledge resources and their contributions from across the industry and around the world. Most organizations simply cannot afford to commit the resources to meet the current demands or the new and emerging technologies, this is an alternative for them as well as for the major broadcasters of North America.

Also see…
April 12, 2016
NABA Meeting Highlights Changing Landscape
The North American Broadcasters Association held its Annual General Meeting in Mexico City, March 1–3. Our Mexican members Televisa and TV Azteca hosted the three-day event at the facilities of Cámara Nacional de la Industria de Radio y Televisión (CIRT).

January 29, 2016
DPP Launches UHD Standard
The Digital Production Partnership has revealed a new technical standard for the delivery of Ultra High Definition programs.
 
October 27. 2014
Never heard of DPP? You’re not alone; many U.S. production and post executives haven’t either.
 
July 17, 2014 
Frustrated by the array of file and tape formats from outside content providers, a number of broadcasters in the United Kingdom have formed the Digital Production Partnership with the goal of solving interoperability issues and to meet specific content delivery. requirements.  
 

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