A Quick Guide to File-based Media QC

How broadcast, post, and agencies can save time and money by establishing a QC process for their media distribution

What is Media QC?

Media QC, or Media Quality Control, is the process of verifying that a media file is “fit for purpose,” meaning it meets the required standards and specifications for how that media will ultimately be used.

Many professional media companies use some sort of QC process to test their media to ensure it’s t for purpose, and that they can accept the file into their workflow because it meets all of their incoming requirements.

These requirements range from simple file and format specifications – such as checking for a .mov with ProRes or an .mp4 with h.264 – to very specific file verifications that ensure media complies with government or other regulations – such as audio levels or captioning specifications.

Why Does QC Matter?

Testing the file in advance of delivery or acceptance will provide visibility of what is out of compliance. Your QC process should provide you with the errors and a report with details on what needs correction. This gives you the opportunity to x problems before delivery or going to air – saving you time and, often, money.

Content producers need to QC their programming before delivering to Net ix, iTunes, Hulu, Amazon Prime, and similar facilities, or risk getting their content rejected.

Netflix, for example, is so committed to compliance that they give content providers a “take home” test that requires them to figure out what is wrong with a sample file. The new IMF specifications as used by Netflix are an entirely different way of packaging media files, and if content providers don’t provide programming that is within the specifications, their files will be rejected and will have to be redelivered. Net ix keeps track of redelivery rates for their preferred vendors and publish- es the results where anyone can see them (Net ix Preferred Vendors – NPV).

Added to that, downstream equipment, such as encoders and transcoders, can malfunction if a file is bad. QCing files reduces the chance that other gear will have a problem passing or processing a file.

The Ever-Expanding Scope of Delivery Requirements

What’s driving the need for QC is the increasing number of delivery requirements, regulations, and file types. With so many more ways to get content to viewers, the linear supply chain is gone, and that means the number and types of files to send has increased, and the chance of making a mistake has gone up.

The massive increase and complexity of delivery requirements makes it virtually impossible to just send out one media file that works in all regions, in all cases.

Additionally, there are an increasing number of laws and rules that media needs to comply with, including audio loudness specifications such as the CALM Act in the US, and EBU R128 in Europe; and even specific photosensitive epilepsy (PSE) regulations in some regions. PSE is triggered in people who have a sensitivity to flashing lights or strobes. Certain flashing video sequences cause PSE. The UK and Japan now require that all broadcast media passes specific PSE tests before being aired.

Many other specifications – such as the UK’s DPP Program Delivery Specification, and AS10 in France – were adopted with the aim of standardizing file delivery specifications. For some content producers that deliver to a multitude of different regions, the result is an increase in the overall number and types of delivery specifications with which they need to comply.

With all of these regulations and specifications, the chance of mistakes – and therefore of fines and disciplinary measures – continues to grow.

Save Time and Money by Avoiding File Rejection

In addition to the laws and rules governed by countries and regions, each point in the media supply chain has its own specifications that need to be followed. No one wants to risk having to redeliver content to distributors – it’s just too expensive and time-consuming.

For example, if a TV station receives a file that does not comply with their specifications for playout, they will either x it or reject it. If the TV station needs to x the content, then they will likely charge a fee to the post house that delivered the content. If the content is rejected, then the post house has to rework and re-submit the content, likely incurring penalty fees. Who can afford to do work twice, take extra time, and pay penalty fees?

Additionally, airing bad content can cost your brand its reputation. A brand can’t afford to deliver content that has quality problems.

The answer to all of this – and to save time, money and ensure your media files are fit for purpose, is to implement a QC process for all your incoming and outgoing media

Manual vs. Automated Media QC

There are two types of QC: 1) manual QC where a person looks at the file, and 2) automated QC where a software system validates the file.

The advantages of manual QC have to do with recognizing human creativity and perception. Artistic and editing decisions are made by humans. An editor might feel the audio dialog is a bit too quiet for a particular scene and choose to make adjustments. An operator will see color shifts on skin tones that a software system could miss. Back when most media was distributed on tape the process of QC was simpler, and lent itself well to manual QC.

Automated QC is ideal for technical issues and for parameters that can’t readily be examined by a human. QC software will check a wide range of parameters including color gamut, Chroma Levels, bitstream syntax, frame size, frame rate, cadence artifacts, blockiness artifacts, PSE Flash testing, as well as audio sampling rates, audio loudness, true-peak, audio phase, minimum levels, audio presence, types of audio on particular channels and so much more.

Also, while humans will often check just the beginning, middle, and end of a piece of content, software thoroughly checks the whole file.

Automated QC is the fastest and most reliable means of finding compliance errors. The best QC systems also provide optional error correction.

To learn more about Automated QC download the Definitive Guide to File-Based Media QC or visit our website.

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