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Adding meta-data to video in iOS

November 3, 2010

Adding metadata to video delivered using the HTTP Live Stream protocol

Apple has proposed a standard for delivering both live and pre-recorded video over the web: HTTP Live Streaming. Whilst the name might suggest that this protocol is only relevant to the delivery of live video streams, it is equally relevant to delivering pre-recorded video on-demand. This post isn’t meant to be an introduction to HTTP Live Streaming, if you’re looking for an introduction, you might like to read the documentation that Apple makes available on their website.

One feature of the HTTP Live Streaming protocol that hasn’t received much attention yet is the support for including timed meta-data within the video stream. Perhaps it hasn’t received much attention due to the fact that Apple’s documentation doesn’t make it simple to figure out how to inject metadata in to a video stream. If you’re interested in the idea of incorporating meta-data in your video streams, this post will show you how to inject meta-data in to a stream and make use of it within an iOS application that receives the stream.

What do I mean by ‘injecting meta-data’?

Before I move on to ‘how’, let me briefly expand on what I mean by ‘injecting meta-data’ in to a HTTP Live Stream. A stream consists of a series of video segments. A video player (on a web page or in a native app) will download each of the segments as needed and combine them to create a seamless stream of video. Wouldn’t it be nice if we could annotate this stream of video with appropriate meta-data that the application playing the video could make use of during playback? For example, imagine a weekly TV show where a couple of reviewers discuss films they’ve seen that week. Wouldn’t it be nice if as you watched them discuss a film, you were offered some extra information about each of the actors/writers/directors they mentioned when they mentioned them. To do this, there would need to be some way of associating some meta-data (eg the names of actors and the URL of their profiles in the Internet Movie Database) with given points in the video as shown in ‘figure 1’.

A figure showing a number of video segments with a 'playback head' at 68 seconds where some meta-data was encountered

Figure 1: Metadata in a HTTP Live Stream

As it turns out, there is support for just this sort of method of adding meta-data to Apple’s HTTP Live Streams. Whilst there are already numerous ways to achieve this sort of thing, the benefit of using the approach described in this post is that the meta-data will be embedded within the stream. The application playing the video doesn’t need to load data from two separate sources (video from one, meta-data from another) and doesn’t need to do anything to keep the two data streams in sync as the same data stream that contains the video also contains the meta-data about the video.

Creating some meta-data

The first step is to create some meta-data that you want to inject in to a video stream. For the purpose of this post, I’m going to add some meta-data to a short clip from the ABC’s (Australian Broadcasting Corporation’s) ‘At the Movies‘ programme that I alluded to earlier. ‘At the Movies‘ is a weekly programme where the hosts Margaret and David review movies that are currently screening in Australian cinemas. It might be nice to add meta-data to the video stream so that when Margaret or David mentions an actor or writer or director (which they do a lot), a viewer could tap their screen to look at the IMDB profile of that actor (for example). So, the first step is to identify what meta-data you want to add and when in the video stream you’d like to add it. In my case, I want to add the following actors’ names and links to their IMDB profiles when they’re first mentioned in the review.

Emma Stone, 68 seconds
Patricia Clarkson, 78 seconds
Stanley Tucci, 80 seconds
Alyson Michalka, 86 seconds
Thomas Haden Church, 149 seconds
Lisa Kudrow, 154 seconds
Will Gluck, 192 seconds

In order to inject this metadata in to the video stream, you first have to create files containing some ID3 tags with the metadata you want to inject at each point in time. You’ll need one file of ID3 tags for each separate moment you want to add metadata to. So in this case I’ll need 7 files. You can create these metadata files using the ‘id3taggenerator’ command-line tool included in the ‘HTTP Live Streaming tools‘ (download link) available from Apple’s website.

The syntax is:

id3taggenerator -o <output file> -artist <some artist> -url <some url>

So, to create the ID3 tags I want to inject in to my stream, I’d use the following commands:

id3taggenerator -o 1.id3 -artist "Emma Stone" -url ""
id3taggenerator -o 2.id3 -artist "Patricia Clarkson" -url ""
id3taggenerator -o 3.id3 -artist "Stanley Tucci" -url ""
id3taggenerator -o 4.id3 -artist "Alyson Michalka" -url ""
id3taggenerator -o 5.id3 -artist "Thomas Haden Church" -url ""
id3taggenerator -o 6.id3 -artist "Lisa Kudrow" -url ""
id3taggenerator -o 7.id3 -artist "Will Gluck" -url ""

Once you’ve created a bunch of files containing the meta-data you want to inject at different points in your video stream the next step is to create a ‘meta macro-file’ to specify which meta-data tags to inject when. This is just a plain-text file with the following format:

68 id3 /path/to/file/1.id3
78 id3 /path/to/file/2.id3
80 id3 /path/to/file/3.id3
86 id3 /path/to/file/4.id3
149 id3 /path/to/file/5.id3
154 id3 /path/to/file/6.id3
192 id3 /path/to/file/7.id3

Important points to note about this file:

  • the numbers indicate the point in time you want to inject meta-data as a number of seconds from the start of the video,
  • the fields are separated by spaces not tabs,
  • the final line must be terminated by a newline character.

Injecting the meta-data in to a video stream

Now you’ve got a bunch of files containing the meta-data you want to inject at different points in your video and a file that indicates which metadata should be injected when, all that is left to do is to actually inject the meta-data in to the video stream. Oh, and to do something in your application if you encounter meta-data when playing the video. But I’ll get to that. First, let’s inject the meta-data in to the stream.

If you’re at all familiar with HTTP Live Streaming you’ll know that you can create a stream from a pre-recorded video file using the ‘mediafilesegmenter’ command-line tool. If you’re not familiar with HTTP Live Streaming, go and read the instructions then come back and continue reading this post.

If you’ve used ‘mediafilesegmenter’ before then adding meta-data to a stream is easy. You just have to add a single parameter to the command you use to segment your video.


-file-base /local/path/to/video
-index-file at_the_movies.m3u8
-meta-macro-file /path/to/macrofile.txt

That’s it, your stream now contains meta-data.

Responding to meta-data during playback

The final step is to do something when you encounter meta-data in the video stream during playback. Now, according to Apple’s documentation you can access this meta-data in both native iOS apps and web apps as there is both an Objective-C and JavaScript API. However, I can’t find any documentation about the JavaScript API so I’m going to focus on native apps.

You can access the meta-data contained in a video stream by registering to receive notifications that are posted by an MPMoviePlayerController when it encounters meta-data in a video stream it is playing. More specifically, you should register for the MPMoviePlayerController’s MPMoviePlayerTimedMetadataUpdatedNotification.


// Register for meta-data notifications
NSNotificationCenter *center = [NSNotificationCenter defaultCenter];
[center addObserver:self

Then, in your ‘metadataUpdate:’ (or whatever you’ve called it) method, you ask the MPMoviePlayerController for its ‘timedMetadata’ and do something interesting with it. For example:

Actor *actor = [[Actor alloc] init];

if ([player timedMetadata]!=nil && [[player timedMetadata] count] > 0) {
	for (MPTimedMetadata *metadata in [player timedMetadata]) {
		if ([[metadata.allMetadata valueForKey:@"key"] isEqualToString:@"TPE1"]) {
			[actor setName:[metadata.allMetadata objectForKey:@"value"]];
		if ([[metadata.allMetadata valueForKey:@"key"] isEqualToString:@"WXXX"]) {
			NSURL *url = [NSURL URLWithString:[metadata.allMetadata objectForKey:@"value"]];
			[actor setProfileURL:url];

// display some UI element for the user to interact with

I’m not entirely sure if the ‘foreach’ loop in the above example is needed as it isn’t clear to me what exactly is returned by the ‘timedMetadata’ method of MPMoviePlayerController. The documentation simply states that it returns ‘An array of the most recent MPTimedMetadata objects’ but who knows what ‘most recent’ means. Will it return all of the meta-data encountered so far? Just the very latest meta-data? or meta-data encountered in the last X seconds prior?

Likewise, the specific keys you look for in the MPTimedMetadata object that is returned will vary depending on the type of ID3 tags you injected in to the stream.


Finally, here’s a screen-cast showing an example application responding to some timed meta-data (you’ll have to wait until/skip to 68 seconds in to see the app respond to the meta-data).


From → Uncategorized

  1. Bruno permalink


    Thank you for this tutorial, it’s exactly what i’m trying to do.

    But I would like to add metadata to a local video. Is it possible with this method or it is necessary to do it with streaming video ?



  2. Big thanks! You have no idea how long I have been looking for this!

    Two questions… Is there any chance of some source code I can play with further please? And, the second, can I bind these timed events to change the content of another view on the screen – like a slideshow, instructions, transcripts etc?

  3. Phillip Seamore permalink

    Hi Jake,

    Interesting stuff – I’ve been looking for a way to read the metadata via JavaScript on iOS. Do you know of any way to do that?


  4. Ryan permalink

    Hey I know this is a really old posting, but I’m trying to use the mediafilesegmenter to add simple metadata to a local video called I made the id3 tags and the meta macro-file, and now I’m inserting them into the video. I used:

    -f /Users/me/Desktop/Videos
    -meta-macro-file /Users/me/Desktop/metamacro3.txt

    Now in the Videos folder that I specified, I have 4 files: fileSequence0.ts, fileSequence1.ts, iframe_index.m3u8, and prog_index.m3u8. I had been using the command:

    moviePlayerController = [[MPMoviePlayerController alloc] initWithContentURL:[NSURL fileURLWithPath:[[NSBundle mainBundle] pathForResource:@”Video3″ ofType:@”mov”]]];

    to play the correct video, but now do I need to use all 4 files? How do I play the video with the metadata? Thanks for any feedback.

    • You’ll need to keep the .m3u8 file (which acts as an ‘index’ or playlist file for the video listing all the individual segments that contain the actual video data) and the .ts files (which are segments of the video). You only need to keep the .mov if you want to be able to re-segment the video at some point (to make changes to metadata etc).

      When you play back the video use the .m3u8 file. Eg, moviePlayerController = [[MPMoviePlayerController alloc] initWithContentURL:[NSURL fileURLWithPath:[[NSBundle mainBundle] pathForResource:@”Video3″ ofType:@”m3u8”]]];

      However you may have to put the video on a web server rather than load it directly from the filesystem and ensure the web server has been modified to understand the mime-type for .m3u8 files.

      Hope this helps,


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