The powerful combination of languages, technology and global culture
And the Oscar goes to…
At the time of putting pen to paper, (well, typing words on a screen as it is now), the ceremony for the 95th Academy Awards, or as we more fondly refer to them, the Oscars, has just taken place. It was the usual glamourous, glittering and rather self-important celebration of the film universe and it left lots of us wondering why the world is so obsessed with this overblown and overelaborate occasion.
But look more closely and there are encouraging changes afoot, linguistically speaking at least. The shift that was becoming apparent when the Korean language movie Parasite swept the awards in 2020 and was continued last year by the best picture win for CODA where American Sign Language (ASL) took center stage, is now well and truly established. Hollywood has opened its doors and red carpets to languages other than the one Shakespeare used and is slowly becoming more inclusive of communication that doesn’t feature the all-powerful English lingo.
Languages other than English were much in evidence across the board in the nominations for the awards this year and what’s more, no one seemed unduly shocked by this, which is in itself symbolic of a change in attitude and culture.
Leading the way was Everything Everywhere All at Once, described by Rotten Tomatoes as, ‘a hilarious and big-hearted sci-fi action movie’. Languages in this film are used for dramatic effect to add meaning to the storyline and depth to its characters. Moving rapidly between, English and Cantonese, the main character takes linguistic code-switching to the limits, reinforcing the chaotic nature of the plot line. That people change language constantly and naturally, reflecting their layered and complex culture, is taken for granted in this film.
This year also saw the first Oscar for an Indian film. The song ‘Naatu Naatu’ from the film RRR and sung in Telugu won the award for best original song beating strong English language contenders. The German language film All Quiet on the Western Front received a best picture nomination as did Tár, which features often non-subtitled German dialogue. ASL was again provided on the livestream channel and ASL interpreters were on-hand on the red carpet.
Although the Oscars represent the refined tip of the media industry iceberg, they point to a more generalized trend.
Steaming platforms have revolutionized the way we consume television and audio content and we now look far beyond country borders for our entertainment. Human stories resonate wherever they take place and those ‘have you watched…?’ conversations are no longer limited to viewers stuck with the same terrestrial channels in the same countries.
The Korean drama Squid Game demonstrated just how far things have changed. Released by Netflix, in September 2021 it reached a staggering 1,650,450,000 viewing hours in its first month and is the company’s most popular program to date. Despite the debate over the ‘accuracy’ of the translation, the sheer number of people tuning in to the show tells us that reading the onscreen ‘one-inch-tall barrier of subtitles’ (as Parasite director Bong Joon-Ho put it) or watching with dubbed audio, didn’t deter most people.
In fact, many of Netflix’s most successful productions have been non-anglophone. French thriller Lupin, the Spanish series Money Heist and the Korean zombie show All of Us Are Dead, to name a few. Audiences, particularly English-speaking ones, are no longer resistant to reading subtitles or watching with dubs, even in the USA where the popular belief has been that Americans will only watch film and television in English, hence the preference to remake movies for the US public.
The tech effect
Of course, without the evolution of technology, these changes in behavior are less likely to occur. The companies that bring entertainment to our increasingly wide variety of screens and devices are as much technology companies as media ones. They have spent huge amounts of time and money on developing the processes to beam images and sound into our homes and onto our screens and give us an uninterrupted, seamless viewing experience.
It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to state that over the last decade or so we’ve witnessed a technological revolution, one that has radically altered how we consume video content. For anyone born before the ‘90s, viewing habits today are barely recognizable from what they once were.
We are now accustomed to watching exactly what we want when we want it. The switch to ‘on-demand’ means we now expect an enormous choice of viewing adapted to our personal criteria – including the language we watch in. This willingness to watch stories from beyond our own experiences which take place in new countries and in new languages is undeniably linked to the boom in streaming and has meant that media companies have had to pay particular attention to adapting their content. They have had to plan very carefully how to localize it.
Localization is pivotal
Netflix has led the way in this field. Their expansion strategy although rapid when viewed from the surface, has been a carefully targeted plan to put their product into new markets and offer local consumers an alternative to more established media outlets. Only present in the United States before 2010, Netflix initially expanded into Canada where it learned valuable lessons without venturing too far afield. As its expertise grew it increased its pace and today Netflix can be watched in more than 190 countries, preferring to state on its website where it’s not available.
Language is of course at the heart of the Netflix plan. As Jinhyun Cho writes in a recent article for The Conversation, ‘translation is central to tectonic shifts in global cultural consumption’, and Netflix has made sure its consumers can access its product in the language and the way they prefer. It has paid careful attention to whether the audience in a particular country prefers subtitles or dubbing, adapts each user interface to cultural and linguistic preferences and uses A/B testing to get it right. In other words, it customizes its offering to suit each consumer in each market.
Understanding what an audience wants is key to cross-border expansion and should be the focus of any localization process. Consumer expectations are constantly evolving and whilst ready to look far beyond their home country for new experiences and new purchases, consumers are also demanding that these products and services be delivered to them in a language and a format that suits them.
The big shift
This opening-up of cultural barriers and ongoing digital transformation around the world presents many opportunities for businesses everywhere, not just Netflix. The advent of the internet has provided commercial pathways for advertising, selling and communication that would previously have been unthinkable. Customers can be reached easily and quickly wherever they are in the world as long as they have an internet connection.
Establishing a relationship with a new audience is now a multi-platform process and businesses use websites, social media, podcasts and more to reach their customers both existing and potential. One of the most powerful weapons in their armory is video. Video creates immediately impactful stories and captures imaginations in ways simple audio or images can’t. According to Statista, consumers worldwide watched an average of 19 hours of video online weekly in 2022 and wyzowl reports that 91% of people want to see more video content from brands in 2023.
Video creates a strong emotional touchpoint and doing global business in today’s world means using video to engage with your audience and tailoring it to suit their expectations. Video can be used in many varied formats from the obvious live streaming on social media platforms like TikTok to product demonstrations and e-learning courses. It now permeates most areas of business.
Localization for growth
When a company starts to expand, so does the need to localize both video and other forms of media content in order to satisfy the demands of potential new audiences. Design and layout, audio and images are just some of the content forms that might benefit from localization and add extra value for consumers in new markets.
It can be a complex process. Deciding which markets to target first, what to localize and whether creating new content is necessary, are just some of the questions that might arise. Companies can do a lot worse than taking inspiration from localization strategy experts, Netflix. Netflix recognizes the importance of engaging language and localization experts and its ambitious expansion policy has been made possible by specialist suppliers who provide services that have enabled the media giant to concentrate on what it does best, making entertainment.
So, if your company wants to take advantage of the wonderful fusion of digital technology, global community and audio-visual impact that we’re witnessing in the world today, why not give t’works a call and let our experts advise you on all aspects of multimedia localization?
And don’t forget to look out for our next blog when we take an in-depth look at the production techniques and processes involved in multimedia localization, offer an easy guide to multimedia terminology and investigate how multimedia localization plays an important role in accessibility.