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In recent years. a large number of new multimedia (MM) formats have been created. It is widely recognized that the life cycle for a MM document consists of three areas. First of all, a document model is needed to model the MM scenario. Secondly, this document model is to be translated into a computer description. Finally, a set of synchronization primitives must be defined in order to be able to present the computer description to the end-user. The contribution of this paper is the definition of an integrated reference model that covers all three areas. For each of the three areas a model is put forward, based on the current state-of-the-art in that area. From these models, a reference model is created consisting of ten rules and a document model. This model is then applied to a number of real-world MM formats (SMIL, QuickTime, RealVideo, Advanced Streaming Format, Shockwave, and MPEG-4). Finally, a comparison is presented showing the results obtained from applying the reference model to the MM formats.