Tracking digital content

The Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers (SMPTE) is actively exploring different aspects of asset management in an effort to standardize some aspects of content management.

Led by the Committee on Metadata and Wrapper Technology (W25) and the Committee on Television Systems Technology (S22)-which is chaired by Oliver F. Morgan, of Avid Technologies, and S. Merrill Weiss, of Merrill Weiss Group, respectively-SMPTE has created a Unique Material Identifier (UMID) and a Unique Program Identifier (UPID). UMID is a tracking device for digital content across all media, much like a license plate. UPID serves the same purpose, but for blocks of content.

"The UMID is a form of metadata that is attached to content from the time it's created. It came out of the work by the SMPTE/ EBU [European Broadcasting Union] task force and serves as a global identification agent that can be generated automatically, so that anybody using the UMID can distinguish

content from any other content," says Weiss.

The S22 committee also includes a sub-group called the Registration Authority Ad Hoc Group, which focuses on the UPID and similar metadata and has made that available online.

Early on, the UPID development team considered working with the International Standard Audio/Visual Number (ISAN), but the linking of the two proved unworkable. Subsequently, the ISAN underwent a transformation, and now the feasibility of uniting the two proposals is under consideration again at SMPTE.

"UPIDs are assigned through a registration process, although the final form of the central registry for UPID data has not been determined. The problem with the ISAN harmonization is that we were further along in developing the registration mechanism. Registration is required so that, when you retrieve a UPID from a block of finished content, you could obtain relevant information about that content," Weiss says.

In addition to the broader effort at SMPTE to create a standardized metadata dictionary, the S22 committee is also examining plant-level information and control mechanisms along with machine control. Weiss served as a moderator at a recent SMPTE panel where Steven Bilow of Grass Valley Group presented a paper on distributed asset-management systems, including GVG's ContentShare software platform. "The goal is to convert plants into object-based operations. We are just figuring it out. The issue is, 'Can we standardize the object model?' That is not certain at this time," says Weiss.

W25 chairman Morgan, a senior consulting engineer at Avid who also serves as the liaison between SMPTE and MPEG, described the whole industrywide metadata-related effort as "proceeding along nicely, and the generalized framework has been put in place.

"A couple of contentious items have surfaced in the progressing of the Metadata Dictionary. For example, the more difficult discussions about the specifics surrounding frames-per-second of telecine, and again in the case of time code, were pushed back [temporarily postponed] to allow the non-contentious items to be processed more quickly," says Morgan. "The plan is to extend the metadata standard every 90 days, which is quite remarkable."

The TV industry and the Internet industry proceed in two very different environments, and this can create a few headaches for anyone attempting to coordinate efforts involving both camps.

"The trouble with a software-driven industry is that there is never enough time for due process, whereas the situation is the exact opposite in the hardware-driven TV industry. There, the prolonged polishing of standards is a fact of life. This leads to an ongoing situation where the TV hardware is always falling behind Internet time, which is what the SMPTE metadata dictionary was designed to correct," Morgan explains.

New application domains are expanding the scope of the metadata dictionary. The TV Anytime Forum (TVAF), a group whose members include NDS, Sony, TiVo, Replay and the major programming networks, is adding new requirements as to how end users generate and consume metadata.