Why MPEG is part of ISO/IEC


In July 1987 the plan to create a group that would develop industry-neutral standards was formed. But problem to be tackled was that the MPEG “digital baseband” (see The discontinuity of digital technologies) had to based on international international standards because they had to have global validity.

The question then was: where should those standards be developed? The answer is provided by the following sections:

  1. Standards describes the 3 international standards organisations;
  2. ISO and IEC standards describes the ISO structure and the ISO/IEC standardisation process;
  3. A home for MPEG describes how an independent home for MPEG was found.


Standards have a special place in industry because they represent convergence points where the parties involved, who typically are in competition, find it convenient to agree on a single solution.

Standards bodies exists at the international level:

  1. International Telecommunication Union (ITU) for matters related to telecommunication and broadcasting
  2. International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC) for electrotechnical matters
  3. International Organisation for Standardisation (ISO) for everything else.


The International Telecommunication Union (ITU) is the result of the 1934 merge between the International Telegraph Convention of 1865 and the International Radiotelegraph Convention of 1906, and today is an agency of the United Nations. This is reflected in the two main branches of the ITU: ITU-T and ITU-R. The former deals with standards for global telecommunications excluding radio communication because this is the purview of ITU-R.


The International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC) is a not-for-profit organisation founded in 1906. It develops International Standards in the fields of electrotechnology, e.g. power gener­ation, transmission and distribution to home appliances and office equipment, semiconductors, fibre optics, batteries, solar energy, nanotechnology and marine energy.


The International Organization for Standardization (ISO) is an international non-governmental standard-setting organisation founded in 1947 and composed of representatives from various national standards organizations.

ISO is well known for its family of quality management systems standards (ISO 9000), environ­mental management standards (ISO 14000) and Information Security Management Systems standards (ISO 27000). There are more than 20,000 ISO published standards.

ISO is a huge organisation whose technical branch is structured, as is the IEC’s, in Technical Committees (TC). The first 3 active TCs are: TC 1 Screw threads, TC 2 Fasteners and TC 4 Rolling bearings. The last 3 TCs in order of establishment are TC 322 Sustainable finance, TC 323 Circular economy and TC 324 Sharing economy.

Between these two extremes there is a large number of TCs, e.g., TC 35 Paints and varnishes, TC 186 Cutlery and table and decorative metal hollow-ware, TC 249 Traditional Chinese med­icine, TC 282 Water reuse, TC 297 Waste collection and transportation management, etc.

Most TCs are organised in working groups (WG). They are tasked to develop standards while TCs retain key functions such as strategy and management. In quite a few cases the area of res­ponsibility is so broad that a horizontal organisation would not be functional. In this case a TC may decide to establish Subcommittees (SC) which include WGs tasked develop standards.

Figure 1 is an organigram of ISO.

Figure  1 – ISO governance structure

ISO and IEC standards

The development process

ISO and IEC share the standard development process which can be summarised as follows:

  1. Submission and balloting of a New Work Item Proposal (NWIP) of a new project meant to lead to an International Standard (IS) or Technical Report (TR). The former contains normative clauses, the latter is informative
  2. Development of a Working Draft (WD, possibly several versions of it
  3. Balloting of the Committee Draft (CD, when the WD has achieved sufficient maturity)
  4. Balloting of the Draft International Standard (DIS, after resolving comments made by National Bodies)
  5. Balloting of the Final Draft International Standard (FDIS, after resolving comments made by National Bodies)

The last ballot is yes/no. No comments allowed.

Amendments (AMD) extend a standard. The same steps as above are carried out with the names Proposed Draft Amendment (PDAM), Draft Amendment (DAM) and Final Draft Amendment (FDAM).

If an error is discovered, a Corrigendum (COR) is produced. This only goes through two stages: Draft Corrigendum (DCOR) and Corrigendum (COR).

A Technical Report, a document without normative clauses, goes through two stages of approval: Proposed Draft Technical Report (PDTR) and Technical Report (TR).


ISO/IEC mandates that in the development of stan­dards working groups operate based on consensus. This is defined as

General agreement characterised by the absence of sustained opposition to substantial issues by any important part of the concerned interests and by a process that involves seeking to take into account the views of all parties concerned and to reconcile any conflicting arguments.

NOTE — Consensus need not imply unanimity.

Patent policy

ISO, IEC and ITU share a common policy vis-à-vis patents in their standards. Using few im­precise but hopefully clear words (as opposed to many precise but unclear words), the policy is:

  1. It is good if a standard has no patents or if the patent holders allow use of their patents for free (with an “Option 1” declaration);
  2. It is accepted if a standard has patents, but the patents holders only allow use of their patents on fair and reasonable terms and non-discriminatory conditions (with an “Option 2” declaration);
  3. It is not permitted to have a standard with patents whose holders do not allow use of their patents (with an “Option 3” declaration).

A home for MPEG

When the MPEG idea took shape in July 1987, the selection of a home to implement the idea was the primary concern. The idea was spoilt for choices as shown by the list of international committees in  Table 1 that were created for various reasons – regulation or simply need for an independent technical reference – to cater to the needs of standards by the different industries.

Table  1 – Media-related standards committees (1980’s)

ITU-T Speech SG XV WP 1
Video SG XV WP 2
ITU-R Audio SG 10
Video SG 11
IEC Recording of audio SC 60 A
Recording of video SC 60 B
Audio-visual equipment TC 84
Receivers SC 12A and G
ISO Photography TC 42
Cinematography TC 36

Since MPEG was conceived to be industry-neutral, committees already developing standards in the “media” area were considered unsuitable because the represented “vested interests”. The choice fell on ISO TC 97 Data Processing who had SC 2 Character sets and Information Coding who included WG 8 Coding of Audio and Picture Information.

In 1987 ISO/TC 97 Data Processing merged with IEC/TC 83 Information technology equipment. The resulting (joint) technical committee was called ISO/IEC JTC 1 Information Technology. SC 2 with its WGs, including WG 8, became part of JTC 1. MPEG was established as an Experts Group on Moving Pictures of ISO/IEC JTC 1/SC 2/WG 8 in 1988.

Note that Experts Group is an organisational entity not officially recognised in the ISO organ­igram. In 1991 SC 2/WG 8 seceded from SC 2 and became SC 29. WG 8’s Moving Picture Experts Group (MPEG) became WG 11 Coding of audio, picture, multimedia and hypermedia information (but everybody in the industry, and even in the general public, calls it MPEG).

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