Subtitling used to be an after-thought, something you did to create a foreign language version of your video content or to make it accessible to the hearing-impaired community. It was an add-on, an addition to the project workflow, not as important as the content itself. Well, things have changed.
Today, more video content is being created than ever before. If you want to stay at the top of your market, making content accessible in any language or to people watching without sound is no longer a nice-to-have: it’s a must-have.
David Hansfield, the Executive Vice President of Global Sales at Dotsub, a translation company that specializes in video, says he’s seen that subtitling is directly linked to increasing audience engagement and creating return on investment (ROI). As far as investing in subtitling goes, Hansfield says, “As soon as you start talking that way with executives, that you’re competing with others for eyeballs or attention and this is one way to capture and hang onto people, I think it becomes a much more compelling argument.”
Subtitles—more important, less expensive
Subtitling is no longer an expensive proposition, which makes it easier to justify doing it. Through the use of companies like Dotsub, it’s possible—and many would argue necessary —to subtitle all video content in its native language and then roll this out into other languages as well. Dotsub provide an inexpensive, fully managed solution for native and foreign language subtitling by handling all areas of translation, on-screen text and file creation.
Hansfield points out that “people won’t watch your video if they’re scrolling through their social media feed and you don’t have your captions burned in. They’ll probably scroll past.”
Native language subtitling grows audiences and keeps consumers engaging with brands on social media platforms. This is because a large part of the audience is viewing their content in a communal space without sound. Subtitling has actually become a business differentiator, in part because it increases the business’s chance of content being viewed on social media feeds.
The role of machine translation (MT) and automated speech recognition (ASR) in localization
Of course, more content being translated and subtitled increases the need for translation at scale. This is where MT and ASR (technology that converts spoken words into text) can play a part in speeding up the process. Currently, we have the technology to do an automated first-pass at the video for transcription, translation and subtitling, which is then edited and fine-tuned by a human. This hybrid workflow makes for accurate subtitling at scale.
The secret to success, as with all localization, lies in creating excellent source content. Hansfield explains “we’re seeing first off with MT, the first thing that people I don’t think realize when they’re captioning or subtitling is that you really need a good source language file. It needs to be accurate and correct.”
A common misconception is that because machines are involved, the process will be quick. Even when employing MT and ASR, ensuring subtitling and captioning is accurate takes time. It can be done quickly if you remove the level of human quality control, but it won’t be as fluent as your business might want it to be. If you require a quality translation and quality subtitles, you have to factor the right amount of time into your project plan.
Trends in subtitling
As the international conference market came to a grinding halt due to the pandemic, we started to see a shift in the importance of subtitling. Companies still needed to launch products and communicate with their employees, business partners and target audiences, but they have had to adapt to doing it without being face-to-face.
Subtitling became a huge part of that evolution as people logged in from their homes to watch streaming or pre-recorded keynotes, break-outs and round-table sessions. “That’s become one of the biggest parts of our business, captioning those sessions and translating them for the global audience of the conference,” says Hansfield.
He points out that the real shift is a shift in thinking. Subtitling is no longer just for the deaf and hard-of-hearing audience members. Aside from subtitling in the source language, companies are starting to consider enhancing their content with multiple languages.
The current trend towards video content is only going to keep increasing. Hansfield explains the global thinking: “We work with a lot of major corporations, enterprise level corporations, who are now putting their CEO messages out in several languages where they might not have before.”
An intro to dubbing
Aside from subtitling, and thanks largely to the rise of voice recognition, dubbing is also on the increase. This is where a voice in a different language replaces the original voice in the video content. Dubbing can be more appealing than subtitling to audiences because, if they choose to have the sound on, they don’t have to read text on the screen.
In the past, dubbing was a costly process, requiring human translation and voice talent to perform the lines, but now automation is taking over. For educational purposes, an automated voice is a cost-effective way of delivering large amounts of voice-over.
Hansfield thinks we’ll see more dubbing in the future: “Dubbing is becoming a trend, people are definitely asking for it . . . as automated voices become better and people become more accepting of that, I think you’ll see more voice-over come into play.”
(Should you do voiceovers or subtitles? All you need to know, here.)
Think differently from the beginning, with subtitling in the workflow
Given that dubbing in another language is more costly than subtitling, many businesses choose the latter, but the bottom line is that it’s no longer acceptable for localized subtitling to be a bolt-on at the end of the content creation process.
It has to be a part of the process from the beginning of a project for it to be done accurately, effectively and in an aesthetically pleasing way on screen. Discussing the language variants and technical details early on in a project improves the chances of achieving smooth delivery and efficient use of time and resources. There will be no waste in terms of poor translations or incompatible file types or file transfer processes.
And a bit of practical advice
The main conversations to have with a subtitling or language partner at the outset are:
Languages—How many? Which ones? Translations in certain languages can be physically different sizes and in video, you only have the amount of space you had in the source language, unless you’re prepared to re-edit, which can be very costly.
File creation—If subtitling files are being created and sent back to you to be edited into the video, what type of file do you need for your postproduction software?
File transfer—How will the files move back and forth between the language or subtitling supplier and your postproduction facility? FTP? Dropbox? File transfer sites? Are these routes secure if the information is sensitive or confidential?
Frequency—Will you be creating a lot of content? Do you need daily, weekly or monthly translations and subtitling or is it just ad-hoc? This could have an impact on how you work with your supplier and the technology you use.
More questions will come out of these ones, but starting with these will mean you are well-placed to have discussions that will benefit the process, your content and probably your ROI.
Hansfield sums it up: “Captioning and subtitling may not sound exciting, but when you open the door to offer your video content to audiences that may not want to watch it because it’s not in their native language or they’re hearing impaired, then that’s really exciting. It gives you a whole new audience.”
Click here to listen to the entire Globally Speaking Radio discussion with David Hansfield.