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Content Insider #836 – localize

By Andy Marken – andy@markencom.com

“They want cadets with goals, with passion, who are sincere and work hard at their training. Those are the cadets that make the best officers, who give their country their best. Be a strong, hard-working and sincere Pilot.” – Colonel Anup Saxena, “Gunjan Saxena: The Kargil Girl, Dharma Productions,” Netflix, 2020

Everyone is jumping on and covering AI in the M&E industry simultaneously, crediting and condemning the technology.

Our best observation is … it depends.

It can benefit content pros and the audience.  It can be a freakin’ disaster.  And it can be anything in between.

One of the uses we’re cautiously encouraged about is localizing global content.  

There is literally a world of good/great films/shows out there for people to watch/hear/experience if only we can really understand the creative message(s).  

That was one of the reasons we found the recent HPA/WIP/SMPTE (Hollywood Professional Association, Women in Post, Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers) panel session on AI in Localization so compelling. 

AI localization is going to make more opportunities for creatives to tell their stories globally and help people understand that the more we’re different, the more we’re the same. 

But … it’s also going to come at a cost.

Netflix’s Sarandos and Amazon’s Jassy were perhaps the least concerned studio/streamer bosses when they had to shut down their US project production during the WGA and SAG-AFTRA strikes.  

Signing agreements still mean those series and movies will be delayed six months or more before they appear on the screen of your choice.

While the Americas may be the largest video story market, it is far from the only market.  

Revenue Size – The US video content market is the world’s largest, followed by China and Japan.  With 83 percent of the citizens having at least one streaming service, it’s logical that every studio/tech streamer and content producer wants their video stories seen, not just in their own country, but also the Americas and ultimately the world.

Netflix has about 249M worldwide subscribers (75.5M US) in 190 countries while Amazon Prime has 265M globally (167M US) in 100 countries.

To sign up subscribers in those countries, they also had to contribute to or make at least 20-30 percent of their content locally.

Chaos – Everything was great when everyone spoke the same language but then things went south when folks decided to build the Tower of Babel.  So now we have 7,000 plus languages to deal with if you want to have everyone, everywhere enjoy your content.

BAM!! suddenly those local investment obligations looked like a valuable entertainment resource because all they had to do was identify which projects would probably do well regionally and/or globally, ensure they had the appropriate airing rights and do “a little” audio content adjustment.  

You could argue that Disney’s Iger should be on the list because they were global before local/global was sexy.

Films like Bog Joon-ho’s 2019 Parasite that swept the Oscars a few years ago, Netflix own South Korean Squid Game and Spanish The House of Paper (Money Heist), and thousands of other shows/films were ample proof people care more about a great video story than the country of origin.

We got hooked on foreign films in college when we’d catch them at our local arthouse theater – some were poorly dubbed, some with subs, a few “pure.”

We’re a little jealous of folks in other countries that speak 2-5 languages while most Americans have a tough time with English.

We’ve made it a point to be able to have at least a rudimentary conversation on our trips to other countries (we cram before the trip) and since we live in the SF Bay Area, we’re pretty good with Spanish.

Language fluency has never stopped us from taking in a good film in a country, even if we struggled to understand the dialogue.

In fact, we’ve found it’s a good way to improve your comprehension/speaking skills by listening to the dialogue and audience reaction.

Localizing films has historically been an expensive/time-consuming process, so producers carefully selected which countries/languages they wanted to target for their projects.

Streamlining Localization – Since it’s not economically feasible to localize shows/films in every language, content creators/producers will focus on the most widely used languages and optimize their exposure/expenditure.  

According to ethnologue, there are 7139 + dynamic, living languages in use around the world but fortunately, over half the population uses 23, so that narrows the work … a little.

Subtitles became an integral part of the 20-year silent film era, helping to tell the story while a person playing a piano or organ set and shaped the movie’s mood and action.

Ready Mr DeMille – The early silent films were enjoyed with a combination of music played in the theater and subtitles people could follow/enjoy.   Talkies gave movies a voice but were also the end of many early performers’ careers such as Gloria Swanson’s portrayed here in Sunset Blvd.

The musician soon lost her/his job when the audio/soundtrack was added to the film, but the subtitles stayed.

Filmmakers found it easy and relatively economic to hire people fluent in the local and target audience language to translate the words and actions and have the written audio part appear as text at the bottom of the screen.

Parasite’s Joon-ho showed his support for subbing when he said in his Golden Globe acceptance speech, “Once you overcome the one-inch-tall barrier of subtitles, you will be introduced to so many more amazing films.”

While some folks find subs distracting, some filmmakers feel it enables them to retain their original vision of the film without making alterations.

No Problem – While there is a constant “discussion” on whether films should be localized with subtitles or by dubbing to be fully appreciated, the younger generation seems to like seeing a film as it was produced along with subs … just in case.  

Subtitles often discard some of the actual dialogue and remove some of the script nuances in an effort to make the storyline easier to follow.  

In addition, the captioning makes it easier for deaf or hard of hearing to follow the plot and dialogue.

We enjoy subtitles because we like to hear the story unfold in its native language and it’s a great way to learn the pronunciation of words and phrases.

Dubbing, on the other hand, has been labor/cost-intensive and difficult to precisely synchronize the actors lip movements with the dialogue.

Tough Work – Localizing content by dubbing it was difficult and time-consuming in the early days of film because the soundtrack was always “just a little” off from the lip movement.  But for some of us, it only added to the excitement of the film.  

We enjoyed early dubbed films to see how closely the audio and speech emotion matched the content on the screen, but it drove our kids nuts.

Like most younger audiences, they prefer subtitles–even when the dubbing is almost perfect.

During the SMPTE Media Technology Summit’s AI in localization, workflows speakers discussed how AI can be used to reshape global content distribution and expand/enhance local access.

Daniela Bocchetti, Sr. Vice President of Client Solutions | IDC LA, noted that AI will play an important role in making more films and series available to diverse audiences around the world.  

Recalling her earlier experience with Deluxe and Netflix Originals she said AI-based translation technologies will be able to seamlessly and rapidly develop accurate and audience captivating subtitles.

She noted that Netflix has clearly shown there is global appeal for foreign content with runaway hits like the Korean drama Squid Game and recent Japanese animi projects that appeal not only to local audiences as well as outside markets, regardless of the native language whether with dubbing or subtitles.

Iluno’s lead product manager, Stefanie Gamberg, pointed out that studios and streamers are moving aggressively with AI-enabled subtitling and dubbing of new projects to make them attractive in the 23 languages spoken by more than half of the world’s population.

In addition, the new automated tools enable them to not only refresh projects but also to make it possible for them to deliver shows/movies in low-resource languages for smaller markets. 

Yes, No, Maybe – There’s no clear answer as to whether dubbing or subbing is the best way to localize a show or movie, even though we find hearing the project in its native tongue and following the dialogue is more fulfilling.  However, some of the words don’t translate well and often some of the script is omitted with subs.  

Both speakers said that the fully automated solutions also make it possible for studios to accurately take a long, hard look at their media archived content for release in more markets where it wasn’t really economically practical to do so before because of cost vs. market potential.  

Ms. Gamberg commented that the higher level of accuracy; attention to regional preferences, accents and cultural nuances and lower post-production cost has been especially inviting to FAST streaming channels that can now offer in-depth show and movie offerings of genre content that is appealing to local markets.  

Growth Opportunities – By making it easier, faster and more economic to localize films and shows, streamers and content owners are able to expand their viewership in more countries, more rapidly.  

“It really is a redefined look at title management and with sufficient human quality control ensures content producers, distributors and viewers get the best return/enjoyment possible,” Ms. Bocchetti emphasized. 

According to a Parrot survey of people who watch foreign content, subtitling video content was preferred over dubbing in the United States and the United Kingdom, with 76 and 75 percent respectively preferring the first localizing method.  By comparison, 54 percent of video viewers in Italy reported preferring dubbing, while in Germany this number rose to six in 10 respondents.

Broader Markets – Increasingly, studios and content producers are developing their video stories not just to attract people in their and neighboring countries, but also with an eye on what appeals to the global market.

What the industry is now understanding is that there is a large, unfilled demand for entertainment-grade content localization.

In fact, with the global expansion and availability of economic streaming content services the potential for content creators, producers and distributors is probably bigger than previously thought.  

Aggressively monitored and controlled, AI dubbing and subtitling will help content creators and owners deliver “new” projects to “new” markets and audiences that were previously unserved because of cost, time and human constraints.  

Admittedly, this will mean the loss of some jobs, especially in entry-level translation and voice work, but few see machine-generated work totally replacing the human element. 

To get the right emotions, dialects, artistry; and yes, heart in the shows and films, studios and producers will still hire human professionals.

This is just one of the areas where SAG-AFTRA focused on clarifying and establishing guardrails for the expanding use of AI by studios and streamers to clarify and protect professional jobs in the future.

Here in the US, the unions negotiated to ensure contracts include “informed consent and fair compensation when a ‘digital replica’ is made of the performer” and when the voice, likeness or performance is altered by AI.

While they won’t automatically be covered by agreements in the US content industry, professionals in other countries are also taking a close, hard look at generative AI and its use in their country’s content production industry.  

Whether it is content produced in India, Saudi Arabia or Nigeria or is repurposed for local viewing, they want to ensure their professionals remain connected and involved.

There are so many different languages, dialects, accents and idioms that content creators, owners and distributors will always want to hire and have available the best voice artists possible to ensure the audio content doesn’t run afoul of local laws and mores.

Despite the rapid improvement and expansion of AI to make it easier to clone and generate voices, we still believe the power is still in the hands of humans. 

As Colonel Anup Saxena said in The Kargil Girl, “Those who work hard and never give up in life are always rewarded with success in the end.

Andy Markenandy@markencom.com – is an author of more than 800 articles on management, marketing, communications, industry trends in media & entertainment, consumer electronics, software, and applications. An internationally recognized marketing/communications consultant with a broad range of technical and industry expertise especially in storage, storage management and film/video production fields; he has an extended range of relationships with business, industry trade press, online media, and industry analysts/consultants.

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