Globalization of entertainment content propels translation demand

Globalization of entertainment content propels translation demand

The burgeoning growth in the media and entertainment industry is primarily propelled by the trend of content digitalization, which has led to the exponential increase in the volume of foreign content produced on a daily basis. The US is considered to be at the forefront of this growth, producing a majority of media and entertainment content and dominating the global arena. Hence, the US market continues to be the largest market for translation services.

By virtue of digitalization, content can be made readily available locally in any market. Riding on the waves of massive content production and local availability, several other countries are seeking a greater share of global entertainment revenues across categories such as art, television, games, music and films. This includes South Korea, China and India, which have traditionally thrived on domestic viewership and are now looking to capture global audiences through foreignization of their domestic content for retaining their market share and maximizing profitability from consumer demand for a variety of content in the consumers’ local languages.

This opportunity has encouraged media and entertainment companies across the globe to consider content localization as an important strategic imperative and revenue driver. In turn, there has been a massive explosion in the demand for content localization, with media and entertainment companies pouring in investments into localizing content, hustling the demand for translation services. Apart from the above-mentioned genres, documentaries and reality TV shows are contributing to the demand for localization and translation. Besides Europe and Asia, which are major translation markets alongside the US, several emerging nations present significant opportunities for growth in the translation industry, including those in the Middle East and Africa.

Yet another recent trend that is rapidly driving the demand for translation in the entertainment arena is the boom in user-generated video content. An estimated 300 hours of video content features in YouTube every minute and the viewership is as high as 5 billion videos per day. A major chunk (about 70%) of consumers of these videos are regarded to be non-English speaking and they primarily drive the demand for subtitling and dubbing. Video localization was the predominant trend in 2018 driving the demand for translation services from the entertainment industry. Furthermore, in 2019, online videos are expected to constitute 80% of Internet traffic (according to Cisco), further increasing the requirement for presenting this video content in multiple global languages. 

According to IBISWorld, the US industry for translation services recorded $5 billion revenues in 2018, growing by 1.3% year-on-year. This compares to an estimated $38 billion for the global industry according to Flatworld Solutions, with a year-on-year growth of nearly 6%. In the same period, the number of qualified professionals grew by 4.8% and service providers grew by 3.6% year-on-year (IBISWorld). In 2018, localization and translation services represented the fourth position among the world’s fastest growing industries, comprising over 57,000 language specialists including translators and localizers. This number is expected to increase to 90,000 in 2020, spurred by the demand for complementary services such as dubbing, subtitling and voice-overs. 

Subtitling is regarded to be extremely critical to a film’s quality perceived by non-native audiences. Similarly, high-quality voice-over services lend considerable cultural authenticity and credibility to the content that is launched for non-regional audiences. These trends have prompted many translation and language services companies to focus on delivering specialized services to the media and entertainment industry by running dubbing outfits, acquainting themselves with and acquiring specific abilities relating to the technological aspects of entertainment content localization.

In 2018, technologies such as neuro machine translation (NMT) simulating the functioning of the human brain to deliver the translations were expected to proliferate. Major giants such as Microsoft and Google have invested significantly towards launching NMT for imparting their products with multi-language features, one of them being online translation. However, the kind of translation and localization required by the media and entertainment industry is not amenable for being delivered using NMT technology because it warrants specialists who can understand and accurately localize cultural references, contextual idiomatic expressions, sarcasms, colloquialisms and dialects, amongst others.

Hence, trained human translators are in extremely high demand and have come to comprise a new segment called media localizers. However, the translation and localization service provider sector is facing a severe shortage of talent to be able to fully utilize the demand from the media and entertainment industry, creating a need for training fresh talent as well as up-skilling the baseline capabilities of existing translation professionals, particularly for rare language pairs.

In the past few years, Chinese films have increasingly captured the global stage and are vying for awards across several international genres, mainly because of being translated to several foreign languages. In this process of domestication, particularly Chinese-to-English translation of movie subtitles warrants strong understanding of Chinese culture and the ability to accurately deliver cultural connotations, contextual relevance and customary expressions in the subtitles. The presently available skills for this are considered extremely unsatisfactory in view of the existing demand. Nevertheless, post editing tools driven by artificial intelligence are expected to bridge the gap between demand and talent availability to a small extent by imparting translators with the capability to adapt the content for different local audience and expedite the process of training translators for the emerging demands from the media and entertainment industry. 

To conclude, the demand for localizing media and entertainment content, particularly for video localization, has caused a meteoric rise in the need for high-quality, accurate and culturally relevant translation services, specifically subtitling and dubbing. The present availability of talent is not in alignment with this demand. While machine translation tools can help close this gap to an extent, the nature of the translation subject does not allow large-scale deployment of non-human technology to deliver the end service. Hence, the demand for translation from the media and entertainment industry is expected to soon recalibrate the translation talent pool globally as language service providers are expected to find this opportunity too vast and high-margin in nature to not capitalize to their fullest potential.