The media localisation industry is a bridge between the language service providers and the media services providers, each forecasted to grow significantly in the next few years with CAGR of 7.92 per cent and 7 per cent respectively. The main drivers for our industry are growth in online video entertainment and National legislation/regulation. Despite a chastening 2022, streaming remains strong, billions are still being deployed on content, and the name of the game is international expansion.
Media localisation is a rapidly evolving field, driven by changing consumer preferences, technological advancements, and evolving business models. As the demand for localised content continues to grow, our industry will continue to experience skills shortages, including translators from non-English languages and real-time subtitlers.
With the rise of live streaming platforms like Twitch and YouTube Live, real-time localisation has become essential to ensure that content is accessible to a global audience in real-time.
The decision to localise into a particular language is of strategic importance for media entertainment companies since adding new language options opens up new audiences and geographical revenue streams. Localisation is therefore considered to be a revenue driver in media entertainment. However, as 2022 was a year of uncertainty for the media entertainment industry, the focus is now more on the bottom line and cost saving and customers are looking for smarter and cheaper solutions as their need for localisation grows.
As media entertainment companies are keeping their eyes on the bottom line, requiring cheaper and better services with tighter timelines, a system of tiered assets seems to be emerging. At the lower end, basic, perhaps autogenerated, subtitles or captions; and for high profile content, bespoke subtitles created by the best audiovisual translators.
There is an expectation that technology, including speech recognition, machine translation and voice synthesising, has the potential to significantly improve the efficiency and quality of the media localisation process and help address the talent shortfall in the industry.
There’s no denying that machine translation has improved by leaps and bounds over the past couple of years. There is a strong economic advantage brought by the use of language technologies, promising a reduction in market prices for a greater number of language combinations.
While these technologies have made significant progress in recent years, they are not without drawbacks and adverse effects. We as industry professionals know that it is crucial to use them in conjunction with human resources as a tool to enhance efficiency rather than as replacements for human resources.
The dubbing industry has undergone significant changes with the advent of synthetic voices, which have the potential to revolutionise the way voice-over work is done. However, the use of synthetic voices in the dubbing industry raises various legal and ethical concerns that must be carefully considered before they are widely adopted. It is important to strike a balance between the benefits of using synthetic voices and the potential risks associated with their use.
On the positive side, seen from a purely cost-saving perspective, AI-generated voices could potentially reduce the cost of dubbing by eliminating the need for human voice actors. It could also speed up the process by generating dialogue more quickly than human actors. AI-generated voices could potentially improve accuracy by generating dialogue that perfectly matches the lip movements.
However, AI-generated voices may not be able to fully replace human voice actors in all scenarios in the foreseeable future. There are certain nuances and emotions that only a human actor can convey through their voice.
From a legal perspective, there are also important implications of AI for copyright law. In general, copyright law protects original creative works by granting exclusive rights to the creators of those works. However, the use of AI in the creation of creative works raises questions about who the actual creator of a work is, and whether the use of AI algorithms to create a work is sufficient to qualify for copyright protection.
These are complex legal issues that are still being explored by legal experts and policymakers. As AI continues to evolve and become more prevalent in creative fields, it is likely that copyright law will need to adapt to ensure that creators and artists are adequately protected.
A new role for localisation companies
Media entertainment providers tend to prefer working with fewer vendors based on master service agreements, pushing localisation providers into offering more adjacent services, such as mastering, versioning, distribution and more.
The most forward-thinking localisation companies are outgrowing the traditional, transaction-based language services concept. Much like the role local film distributors had before the streaming revolution, we are increasingly becoming strategic partners and advisors for our customers’ global needs.
By offering shows and movies that resonate with local audiences, video streaming providers can deepen the connection that subscribers feel to their service, which can lead to increased loyalty and higher retention rates. Another factor driving the trend towards original local content is the need to comply with local content regulations in many countries. Many governments require streaming providers to produce a certain percentage of local content as a condition of doing business in their countries.
Downward price pressure
The language industry, including the media localisation segment, is highly fragmented, with many small and medium-sized companies competing for a share of the market, resulting in a ‘reverse auction-type’ of situation, where suppliers compete for the buyer’s business by underbidding one another.
This increase in competition among localisation providers has led to lower prices for buyers, while at the same time, translators, who are in high demand, often refuse to work for the usual rates or choose to leave the industry.
Many established localisation companies face talent shortages and struggle with too high workloads and tight or unachievable deadlines. Despite fierce competition for resources as well as customers, companies are not intent on owning the majority of the market share and often sub-contract to other localisation companies to meet targets and deadlines.
While new entrants may disrupt the industry and threaten large companies that have significant control in the market by introducing innovation, offering products or services at a lower cost, targeting niche markets, being more flexible and agile, and introducing disruptive business models, the trend is towards competitive collaboration and frequent buyouts and consolidations. This trend of mergers and acquisitions may in turn change the market dynamic.
We are in a good spot
The language services industry has all the features of a market that will attract funding from private equity and venture capital investors. Highly fragmented and with consistent revenue growth even in years such as 2022, a somewhat ‘annus horribilis’ for many industries.
With geopolitical uncertainty, a looming energy crisis in Europe and global inflation, the global language industry remained resilient and private equity was very active in 2022 as language and localisation companies are also perceived as the beneficiaries of the ongoing AI boom as most of us already have a deep understanding of how AI can be added to real-world, useful workflows.
Concluding on an optimistic note; a dynamic company that recently caught my attention are the developers of subtitling and digital management software platforms. Their understanding of the industry’s requirements ahead of time concerning dubbing and subtitling engaged my interest. Profuz Digital’s CEO Ivanka Vassileva told me she saw the need for hybrid (human-enabled) live subtitling services that expand outside of the traditional media industry. It can be used in many other areas such as for online meetings, where automatic transcription and translation have already been incorporated via online meeting platform providers.
Ivanka shares her insight on the dubbing subtitling topic here: “Our approach is that dubbing and subtitling processes should be organised in parallel within the same platform, and not separately, as we’re currently still seeing majority of the time. The preparation work needs to be synchronised and shared, as this greatly improves quality and final delivery of the material, including content that has been both dubbed and subtitled. Recent Oscar award-winning films All Quiet on the Western Front and Everything Everywhere All at Once illustrates how to creatively use dubbing and subtitling effectively at the same time to enhance a viewer’s experience.”
Furthermore, Ivanka notes, “What is very exciting is that dubbing services applications are finally extending outside of traditional movie dubbing alone. Dubbing is now used by TV and radio broadcasters, streaming operators, corporates, and others, which opens it up to a wider audience and endless opportunities. So echoing Bente’s thoughts, dubbing and subtitling is most certainly in a good spot and well-placed for organisations to invest.”