IMF – Interoperable Master Format – March 2015 briefing

The information below is a quick summary of IMF – Interoperable Master Format and what I’ve found out. The facts are not checked to be correct, while for example there is no Wikipedia page for IMF’s (that is for Interoperable Master formats, not the international monetary fund!)
 
The information available on the internet is very limited as the authoritative website http://www.imfforum.com/   is a reference page for the continuing work being done by the SMPTE IMF committees.
 

IMF Standard(s)

The IMF is a set of standards that are already in the SMPTE organizations Standards repository. 
 
The SMPTE Standards numbers are;
 
ST 2067-2     Core Constraints  
ST 2067-3     Composition Play List 
ST 2067-5     Essence Component
 
ST 2067-20     Application #2 Document 
ST 2067-21     Application #2 Extended (known as 2e) – Chosen by Netflix)
ST 2067-30     Application #3 Document 
ST 2067-##    Application #4 CST RT021 Mezzanine film format – not yet a standard being discussed.
 
ST 2067-101      Output Profile List — Common Image Definitions and Macros
ST 2067-102      Common Image Pixel Colour Schemes
ST 2067-103      Output Profile List — Common Audio Definition and Macros
The standards are so new the ink would be drying on some of them if they were paper published. One of them on the Output Profile List (OPL) was published during the week of 16th March 2015

Why does the IMF standard exist?

The IMF was a similar exercise to the Digital Cinema imitative started by the main Hollywood studios to solve a common issue with in the industry of there being too many ways of creating digital content as soon as it left the domain of video tapes. 
 
Some of the issue the IMF platform was designed to address are;
     Creation of too many digital versions from digital or tape masters.
     Tracking of Multiple edits, and the difficulty of calling any particular version a “master”
     Tracking of Multiple audio and subtitle versions
     Tracking of new audio multitrack formats, from Stereo, 5:1, 7:1 Atmos etc.
     Tracking of Closed captions and subtitles.
     Creation of many digital deliverables  
 

What does the IMF standard achieve?

The idea is to provide a fully interoperable format, based on non-ambiguous industry standards, while it is not intended to be used for consumer delivery of programs, it is intended to be a business to business platform, where the trust and security of the content is placed on the person storing the content, and as such there is no security layer in the format unlike the DCP package world.
 

What is an IMF?

An IMF is made up in its most basic form, and in it’s operational form becomes an IMP (Interoperable Master Package)
 
It’s essence is;
Images
Audio
Subtitle + Closed Caption
Technical Metadata
Playlist for content
 
The original intent of the IMF is to create the master of all masters in the same way a Master tape was created for sub masters tapes were to be created later.
 

Who needs an IMF?

The format is neither an acquisition format, nor is it intended to be an edit format. It sits in parallel with many of the SMPTE initiatives, on Metadata, common file name conventions, MXF etc. Some of the key elements are xml files used to point to MXF wrapped content. The final content for delivery is made from these IMF packages using common output formats such as QuickTime, MPEG, etc. while it is the intention of the format that it will be the master long term archive of a piece of work. It does not ensure storage medium will be robust. 
 
It was initially designed to be the replacement for tape as a master format, with the added benefits a digital file format offers;
     Uses modern compression formats
     Stores the difference from an original version OV and later versions
     Contains instructions on how to create versions.
     Allows for Automation of some versioning operations.*
 
*The brand new OPL standard defines for example how a common picture track, with a set of Mix and Effect Audio and separate international dialogue tracks and be auto mixed via a macro from the IMF file to create the output deliverables. Where previously this would have been a complex manual track laying job the idea of this OPL automation is to remove the creative element with an automatic mixing formula.
 

IMF make up and similarities to DCP’s

Like a DCP the IMF on the main contains JPEG 2000 frames, with a composition play list CPL set up for playing out/rendering specific versions of the IMF content.
 
Below is what is referred to as a Interoperable Master Package (IMP)
Composition 

Composition Play List
(CPL)
Video,
Audio,
Data,
Metadata
Output Profile List
(OPL)
Packing list
Asset map

What are IMF apps?

From the above IMP framework, the following applications are created.
 
These are the real world applications that will be adopted by major film studio’s and some end users such as Netflix to specify the actual delivered content. For example App #1 was never used in the field, App 2 was limited to HD/2K frames sizes and has been used to produce delivered products, while App2e (e for Extended) is the standard being used by Netflix which will support up to 4k UHDTV packages. The final App 4 is the one I’d like information on if anyone can find out more about it and send it on, I’d be most grateful.

App #1
MXF
Uncompressed
DPX

App #2
MXF
JPEG2000
Broadcast HD

App #2e
MXF
JPEG2000
Broadcast
UHDTV (4k)

App #3
MXF
MPEG 4 SS +P
Broadcast
HD

App #4
JPEG 2000
16bit
XYZ colour space
444
Film aspects up to 2048×1556, 4096×3112, 6k and 8k
Archive frame rates 16, 200/11, 20, 240/11fps

 
This information was in the main part collated thanks to Dan Tatut of Marquise who produce an IMF packaging platform, I have used Marquise systems but have no further relationship with them.

Who gets the money Sales or Marketing?

In a small company sales and marketing are two sides of a similar coin, in order to get in front of people you need to spend time and money, the cycle starts with marketing to get a front of mind perception of the business’s offering, leading to a conversation to sell products to the prospective client.

A popular way of summarising the sales cycle is derived from Pareto’s principle or that of the “80 – 20 rule”, where in sales 80% of the sales come from 20% of your clients.

If this principle is evaluated you can derive the thought. Look after the clients you have and grow them into great clients, while evaluating very carefully the time you spend persuading the tire kickers. Inevitably a customer who takes a lot of convincing to use your company will become the companies biggest critic when using the services.

For example there is often a gap of understanding between what the sales staff are offering the client and what the client requires, here the salesperson needs to evaluate how close the current over all core business workflow is to the desired outcome. Which on an extreme can become a question of how much capital is required to change the companies existing business practices?

On a simplistic scale the closer the new prospect is to buying a ready made of the shelf product the more time and money should be spent in achieving the sale.

So where does strategic change occur if you don’t follow your customer’s requests?

The strategy is exactly that, it’s a long term view of a business, and how it changes should be planned out and and discussed. Where 80% of the business should remain focused on it’s core, while the innovation should only ever be 20%. Where focus here is the keyword. Follow One Course Until Success.

Without a strong sales pipeline the business can starve of the companies most important commodity cash!

So from the 80/20 principle where would be the best place to go and get more sales, finding  a new partner who could become part of the 80% of non productive clients. Or should you go back to the existing clients, work out their needs and then super serve them in their needs?

Have you been able to increase your sales by asking your current customers what they want more of?

 

Internet Marketing

Is only ever going to be worthwhile if there is a clear way of achieving an online sale 24/7 365 days a year. If you’re spending your time driving traffic to a website that doesn’t sell or as a minimum doesn’t ask for an e-mail address you may as well have gone back to the future to 1992 when the internet was starting as an altruistic online give away.

In other real world terms, you may be spending money taking people out for coffee and lunches, and at then end of the day you may wondering when will this or that prospect come to the front door with a job?

Or you could be spending similar money using paid adverts to drive traffic to a website that provides invaluable information and most importantly sells your product without further human interaction.

The basics of a website are;

  • Purchasing the website name, Domain name.
  • Set up a WordPress website hosted by a shared hosting website provider.
  • Subscribe to an e-mail subscription service to collect e-mail addresses and act as the e-mail forwarder for mass marketing e-mails. (creating an automated e-mail pipeline so no matter when a customer finds you, they’ll always receive a warm welcome and a set of informative e-mails on services and products and potential discounts.)
  • Add a sales cart plug-in on the WordPress site, that will be the money engine an online shop, explaining the services and products, this is where you can become creative with package deals and special offers.

Finally when this package is up and running costing from $20 a month, you can use social media and paid advertising to drive traffic to your website.

So how do you measure success,when you’ve got a shopping cart on your website?It’s easy. If there is more business coming in than you’re paying for the hosted website and all it’s plugin’s. Then your in profit.

Or going back to the coffee house you could reduce the bar bill by two client drinks and the online shop will be a self financing selling machine.

What’s more don’t be surprised if the phone stops ringing and the enquires e-mails go quiet, it will all go to prove that your better serving your client!

Creating an Online shop

What is the purpose of an online shop?

To provide the company with a shop open 24/7 which can drive non-credit account customers, to pay for products before they are manufactured, reducing internal sales, pre sales, pre-production and finance interaction with the customers’ requests.

What are some of the pros and cons of setting up an online account?

Pros Cons
You will receive cash up front for jobs.You will get advance notice of incoming jobs You will reduce time spent explaining production options You will increase sales, by reducing the friction in the sales process.You will have an online price list You will get customers details up front including a return address and e-mail.You will start to build an online marketing database of previous customers.

You can offer attractive discounts for return visits. (already calculated in original web pricing)

You can incentivise digital delivery

You can direct all small project sales to enter details through web form, and prepayment route.

You needs to have staff that self-train themselves on the online sales page process.You needs to set up the sales page.

  •         Installing WordPress sales cart application.
  •         Installing point of sale payment system application.
  •         Installing an email capture and marketing application.
  •         Possibly add a preferred courier partner application for delivery costs

You will have to pay subscription for sales cart application, or upfront fee or monthly recurring

You will lose a percentage of the sale to the payment system.

You need to constantly update the sales page with pricing, new offers and new products.

What other zero stock items could we supply from our shop?

We could tie up with a supplier of relevant accessories and sell these items on your online shop, selling them as an additional purchase with the primary product that will be at a more attractive price, all the time adding a markup on the extra goods, having the supplier send the accessories only when the order is made, we should be paying for the items sold this way with 30 days credit (becoming a small business, with zero inventory!)

We could tie up with other suppliers to offer stock items, which we’d sell at retail pricing paying our discounted price and only buying the stock with the customer’s order. (Zero Inventory)

We could offer a basic line of alternative products relevant to the field and not directly related to the companies actual product, again finding a stock supplier and holding zero inventory locally.

You could tie up with an open minded international partner to offer services that can’t easily be duplicated locally, with the thought of having a reciprocal service agreement for high quality finishing from your own company.

How have you gone about creating a digital shop front window?

Financial precepts for a small business.

For any small business as we’ve seen before cash is king. Directors shouldn’t treat the business’s money as there own, rather they should treat it as the most rare and precious commodity that has been on the endangered list for the past ten years.

It is often written that “far more small companies go out of business through running out of cash that by being inherently unprofitable” *

For large corporation, Directors tend to have a focus on large scale debt re balancing with bond market sales, while in a small business the nearest you get to financial help is paying over the odds for bank credit facilities, which in all probability will be used up with the first large sale of any moderately successful product.

So where does one look for the cash?

  • Reduced stock pricing through careful management of payments to retain credit lines
  • Reduce overheads in producing the product.
  • Carefully negotiate the price of goods to customers and receive in writing the order
  • Accurately produce the product providing information for reordering
  • Ship the product ahead of time reducing costs of rushed shipping
  • Accurately invoice for all items being sold.
  • Check the cost of production against the invoiced price.
  • In lean times avoid all use of credit facilities unless absolutely product dependent

The key tools for avoiding problems are the same for all business large or small.

  • Communication, to all levels of the company
  • Tracking of creditors list, paying key suppliers or communicating with them.
  • Tracking the debtors list, chasing on late payers. (at a minimum weekly)
  • Reducing stock inventory, running a just in time order system.
  • Check product shipped to products invoiced.
  • Reduce time to invoice to a minimum, (as if it needs saying, Invoice daily)

If you’re running a small business how are you spending your time to generate the oxygen of a small business cash?

*Accounts Demystified – Anthony Rice.

Customer credit terms and purchase orders

Any company needs to have a focused idea on the amount of credit it gives to customers

It is difficult for any business to be sustainable if they don’t sort out cash flow, especially if they’re not a large corporation with teams of people to rely on, to generate new credit lines or business opportunities.

Put simply there will be no business if you don’t sort out cash flow out. As a small company you’ll need money from customers to pay for your monthly existence.

One technique that I propose is that you don’t give any credit to any large non-corporate clients with existing contract (who are good payers), put simply if you can’t get supplies from the majority of your suppliers without cash up front,  this has to dictate how you do business with your customers.

Purchase orders

As a sales force part of the sales process is agreeing the payment terms and then most importantly getting  a purchase order. You can’t afford to renegotiate the margin away from each job because the client believes they can renegotiate on each finished project.

No purchase order no delivery.

The hardline according to philip, awaiting push back!

p.s if you placed the money that we’re asking for in terms of your own money from your own bank why would you give it away without guarantees, let me know what you think?

 

A treatise on credit.

Cash is King. It allows your company to pay its suppliers, gain credit terms, and pay for reinvestment to offer new services.

Credit is only a good word when given by another company to your company.

Credit to customers is bad.

If a customer becomes a bad debtor it acts on many fronts to cost the company more money to provide the original service. When we have a debit, we have to in any case pay for the supplies used to provide the service. We have to pay our staff wages, and worst of all we pay bank credit charges, and finally wasted time chasing bad debts.

Ways to reduce customer credit.

Your company needs to offer an incentive to pay for the product up front. Examples of this are; paper photo finishing, or Dell computers.

Credit or Debtor days

Dell on average gets paid 14 days before they ship a product. They also have 30 days credit with their supplier. This means before paying the supplier they have the money in their bank for 44 days.

Maybe your company can’t reduce its debtor days!

Maybe you can’t currently can’t request payment up front. Or at least it is uncommon and difficult to set up an invoice before the material has been processed.

This is because you haven’t set up an invoicing pipeline to accept a new customers orders and payments at the same time

Solutions. What do you all think?

Sales spreadsheet capturing all the data up front?

Build a simple web payment system?

Build discounts by putting prices up for upfront cash payment?

Stop credit to new companies?

Don’t automatically provide credit?

Actively start chasing debts

If you can work as a team and concentrate our minds on this, you can get to the stage where in another 90 days you have less than 30 days of debtors days.!

Principles of small enterprise company structure growth.

As part of Michale E Gerber’s an ever popular book, The E-Myth Revisited. He explains how a part of every new businesses DNA should be a clearly written out set of overarching job descriptions. Where each of the main core business tasks is written up as a job description, each job has who they report to. Who they may have as staff etc. Even as the company is in it’s embryonic stage of say two people all the potential jobs are divided up, giving out ultimate responsibility to each party.

When the business metaphorically starts hitting the road.
Each of the job roles that is awarded should be given out with a clear job description. It should be clear that sales should be left to sell. Operations left to direct production. Finance should deal with the money. Human resources deal with personnel etc, and finally the Chief Executive Officer should ensure the company runs a straight course.

In every company human nature dictates that people will always do in a business what they most enjoy.
It is also obvious that if a legal representative would rather be entertaining clients than reading contracts. Issues will ensue, equally each employee (and everyone in a business is an employee!) needs to have a laser beam focus for maximising their area of the business.
As soon as the Finance director becomes the new business developer. You’ll find bookings clerks, invoicing, debt receivables, and accounts payable will all loose equal focus.

In summary for any successful business venture each employee needs to step up to the plate and perform with excellence their chosen job.

How much should you pay for your software or hardware support contract?

Upon purchasing any equipment or software that represents a large capital investment to a company there is often a further continued cost item that is rarely talked about during the sale. This is.

An Annual Support Contract.

An annual support contract will rarely be needed with in the first 12 months of purchase and thus is often forgotten about, as the person making the purchasing decision is often concentrating on gaining the most productivity for the lowest price point.

Why do you need an Annual support contract?

It is only after one year of use does the question of protecting the investment from potential disaster occurring come from the original vendor, they will point out that you can help slow the depreciation of the original asset, by providing a full maintenance cycle or in the case of software upgrade cycle.

From my research of 20 years in the media hardware industry a common ratio/percentage for purchase cost to annual support cost is between 10% and 15% of the original purchase cost.

I won’t analysis the reasons for the cost structure of support contracts just pass on the average costs, where hopefully the reader of this blog post can arrive to there own conclusions why each percentage point of support contract costs is worth discussing as part of the purchase costs.

Below is a table showing a nominal £100,000 purchase cost, this could easily be Dollars, Euro, Yen, etc.

PPP Annual Support cost illustration

Question; Would your company be able to negotiate a 5 year maintenance plan during the purchasing phase, incorporating this money into the capital expenditure or do they have to in-cure the higher operational costs year after year?

Bootstrapping a small company.

How to treat your working/investing directors.

When a company is at it’s early stages there are difficult choices for the company directors to take, one of the hardest is with regards to monthly salaries. It may be thought that the done thing is to manly endeavor for months without taking a salary, while all the time fooling yourselves that your potential 2nd round investor will think you’re great financial stewards.

Any investor worth their salt is going to be looking at the books and seeing how the performance of the business is month on month, and will look at the business shareholdings, then at the directors salary and do a calculation as to the viability of becoming an investor who will be able to demand fair returns for the investment.

While the investor will know that if a company director is not taking a salary they will either expect to pay themselves in large lump sums or may end up finding creative ways to live off the companies credit.

Share awards

Clearly in a new company there will be Founders, 1st round directors, 2nd round directors etc, with each round of directors the vesting time will normally remain the same for a nominated number of shares to be fully released. While it is widely accepted that those starting as 1st round directors in the company are taking the most risk they will expect to receive more shares than say directors that stood back and waited for the company to operate before jumping from one company to the new company.

With the thought of shares removed, if it is accepted that the company will not be in profit for the first couple or more years, then there won’t be any dividends awarded and thus the directors who are working in the company will need some form of salary to be able to put a roof over their heads and eat the obligatory rice and beans, or pot noodle which every is your favorite!

From the outset an equal and absolutely regular minimum stipend should be drawn up, while it is clear from the earlier discussion of founders and rounds of directors, all the directors will not be bringing equal assets, whether financial or practical experience. While it is important for group cohesion that all “investors” of time and money are treated equally, except of course for the initial shareholder agreement and division of shares.

So where can this go wrong, for example in a small business each director will have their own financial reserves, without a crystal ball no one can predict a day when a profit is made, while a CEO and Sales Director could be using a company credit card to fill their car tanks, and eat out each day, other directors may have cars needing replacing or mortgages to pay. It can be easy for a bubble of division to occur within the business, of the haves and have nots.

The important point is the core group will be bringing the company to a successful status to enable the company to make a profit, and thus an attractive proposition for investment and thus more profit can be made.