Media & Entertainment

ISAN and the Benefits It Brings to the Digital Media Supply Chain

David Vavruska
April 28, 2022 | 9 min read
In this latest article in our series discussing metadata management standards, we will get a detailed picture of the European metadata standard that has been a mainstay in the media and entertainment industries for decades now and why it still has so much to offer.

In our first article in the series of how metadata standards help media companies become more efficient and save costs, I described what metadata standards are and how exactly they work to simplify the entire life cycle of an intellectual property.

In the second entry, we took a closer look at the American-made EIDR metadata standard, which is used by major Hollywood production companies, Silicon Valley based streaming technology giants, and major broadcasters and publishers alike.

International Standard Audiovisual Number (ISAN)

ISAN was first introduced in 2002 by the Geneva based ISO, the international organization responsible for many prestigious certifications. Even ISAN itself began as a part of one of the many ISO conformity standards.

If you’ve ever held a physical book, you may have noticed its sister identifier, the ISBN code. And the principle of ISAN is really very similar to this. Each audiovisual property, be it a movie, a song, or a video game, can be assigned a unique code. Entering this code in the ISAN Registry, will return all the information about an audiovisual work available – who took part in its creation, what is its name, what type of media it is, the duration, genre, along with any additional metadata that are in any way relevant to the IP and could be useful to a company working with it.

This process can be entirely automatic by connecting a company’s internal systems to the ISAN Registry via an ISAN API, which allows for the automatic fetching of all relevant metadata without any manual input needed, save for writing the identifier into a database field.

Is there anything actually useful hiding behind what seems to be just a technical convenience? ISAN is now directly incorporated into many common encoding frameworks (codecs) for media, such as AACS, MPEG, H.222, and is outright required by many distributors, studios, producers, broadcasters, and regulators. So, importantly, there has to be some serious business value to it, right?

Practical use cases of ISAN

Copyright protection

ISAN is a widely used metadata standard and its widespread utilization guarantees that whenever a new identifier is introduced, it gets proliferated into many other registries that aim to supplement ISAN metadata with some extra information and use cases.

The identification of copyright ownership and distribution of royalties for an intellectual property is one of the most often cited benefits of ISAN.

CISAC – the International Confederation of Societies of Authors and Composers – promotes ISAN as the most convenient and elegant way to identify copyrighted content.

Normally, intellectual property such as a song or an episode of a TV series would have to be identified by providing descriptive metadata to a database from which this descriptive metadata would be compared to a central metadata repository. This process would often have to be manual, due to the sheer volume of metadata that needed to be processed.

By using the ISAN identifier alone, the amount of information needed to identify an IP, which was played, decreases dramatically, which allows the process of identification and distribution of royalties for copyrighted intellectual properties to become automated.

“ITV has now enabled identification of its productions through the use of a unique ISAN number, which will improve the accuracy and efficiency of content usage reporting for all our partners throughout the distribution chain”, says Dale Grayson (PDF), the former Director of Archive & Information Policy at ITV.

ISAN identifiers are also incorporated into several technologies for watermarking and fingerprinting content – techniques used to automatically determine what an IP is as it is playing. This is useful, for example, for the purposes of monitoring the distribution, copying and identification of copyrighted content.

Automation of data feed workflows

ISAN of course presents many business benefits that it has in common with many other metadata identifiers, such as providing interoperability. However, how that works has already been described in my previous articles. Let’s showcase a more unique use case here.

All over Europe, there are data banks and audiovisual libraries that supply broadcasters and distributors with data about intellectual properties. Data banks such as GfK, Eurodata TV Worldwide, or Plurimedia each provide the media industry different data about specific IPs, from TV programs, ticket sales statistics, market research and analysis data, to reports about content usage in TV services.

ISAN identifiers allow for the aggregation of data from each of these data feeds into one cohesive stream that is permanently attached to this code. The option to integrate the ISAN of an audiovisual work provides significant convenience to the consumers of this data. Instead of tapping into each of the data sources individually, all this data can now be drawn simultaneously using automatic workflows to be used together with all of the IP’s original metadata for further context.

Given ISAN’s use from the inception of an intellectual property to its consumption, the ability to accumulate under one umbrella code, data from so many diverse sources, of so many different types and purposes is remarkably useful.


ISAN has been around for some time. Over the course of its existence many more metadata identifiers appeared over the years and tried to fill in various niches and blind spots in what ISAN covers. However, ISAN has remained the quintessential metadata identifier for decades now.

In other words, ISAN became, and remains to this day, the standard among metadata standards. Much of its popularity is surely derived from its inclusion in ISO standards for metadata management in media and entertainment, whose certifications have become a prominent sign of prestige.

ISAN also gained the backing of yet another process standardization loving organization – the European Union (EU). The EU promotes ISAN as the singular tool for bringing order and efficiency into media supply and distribution chains within its territory.

ISAN is, however, not just limited to Switzerland and the continent of Europe. It is represented and promoted outside Europe by many regional registration agencies which make sure access to ISAN, its database of intellectual property metadata, and all the benefits that come with it, is provided to companies from countries such as Turkey, Korea, and Australia.

ISAN and other media and entertainment metadata standards (such as EIDR) represent an established norm for saving on operational costs, ensuring efficiency, and a smooth and comprehensible communication across the supply chain.

Accurity is a flexible metadata management platform that has already proven its worth when it comes to media metadata standards. Accurity was endorsed by the German broadcaster ZDF Studios (previously ZDF Enterprises), after being used to help them adopt the EIDR metadata standard in a bid to digitalize their link of the media supply chain and ensure efficiency of their data management – their story is available to read in our case studies section.

Accurity can help your organization become compliant with any metadata standard that matters in the media and entertainment industry. If you want to learn how, just ask us for a demo! Our team will be happy to answer all your questions about metadata in media.

David Vavruska
Product Analyst