The Value of Dubbing for a Global Audience

a microphone which forms part of Visual Data's Dubbing Services

In recent years we’ve seen the rising demand for localised content, both from a consumer and a content provider standpoint, which has driven significant growth in the global dubbing and localisation market. Content Owners and online streaming platforms outside of the U.S. have assumed a strong market share in the media & entertainment industry. Localisation services go far beyond language translation, as they serve to increase the content’s accessibility, create more immersive and culturally relatable experiences, and help companies maximise the value of their media content. Even with recent cutbacks in content spend, the demand for native language dubbing and other localisation services still remains at high volumes for the industry.

Growth of Global Content Consumption = Increased Demand for Localised Content

Dubbing is a tool that has been used for decades, but with the import/export of content exploding across all borders, it’s experiencing a revitalization or resurgence of sorts. Content and streaming providers are heavily investing in non-English-language programming to cater to an increasingly global audience and dubbing helps to make this content more accessible to viewers who cannot or don’t want to read subtitles. In parallel, consumers now have higher expectations that high-quality dubbing should be available and want more control over their own viewing experience, becoming more selective and critical. We especially see this consumer trend amongst younger viewers who consume their content across multiple devices, channels, and platforms and can “watch TV” while using other devices.

The Effect of Content Cost Controls

A key consideration of dubbing trends is what the market is experiencing with content cost controls. The price-tag on quality dubbing can determine whether content is dubbed or subtitled. In terms of cost, subtitling is cheaper than dubbing, yet audiences who are not used to subtitles may find them distracting or too hard to follow. Content Owners are closely considering the purpose of the content and being more selective on whether to commission the dubbing process based upon audience preferences in a region or the type of content that is being localised. Balancing market expectations, the availability of dubbing services, the type of content (e.g., long-form vs. short-form), and the cost of such services is causing closer examination of the value of dubbing.

Emerging Markets Looking for (Quality) Content in their Native Language

For emerging markets, the media industry has witnessed a high demand for content in native languages, especially as streaming platforms expand, and production companies flourish in these regions.

On the other hand, for markets that have typically been the drivers of English content production (such as the U.S.), dubbing into English has been a relatively small market, often due to low-quality or poorly dubbed content, and a preference for subtitles. With streaming services like Sky, Showtime, Netflix, Prime, Disney+ and other OTT platforms expanding the reach of non-English and international content to a wider audience, English-dubbed content has become more popular in recent years.

Dubbing Differences

While quality is inarguably important in dubbing, expectations and levels of quality tend to vary between markets, regions, and countries. What works for one consumer segment or part of the world, may not satisfy others. Some countries have a long history of dubbing, while others prefer subtitling. Dubbing practices also vary widely by geography; some countries prioritize how quickly they can get a piece of content dubbed and quality isn’t as important as being able to follow the narrative, while other countries focus heavily on the creative integrity of the content. For example: with dubbing being more expensive and labor-intensive than subtitling, dubbing may make more economic sense in larger markets. Yet, for certain smaller markets, cost isn’t the only factor; culture plays a large role. Take Poland for example; most feature content has a dubbed voice-over (Lektor), which plays over the original audio. Rather than full dubbing, this style of localisation is simply part of the Polish culture. At the opposite end of the scale, the way the Japanese often approach dubbing is like a radio play whereby the actors gather in person portraying the characters and bringing more vibrancy, cultural nuance, and context to the content. The factors that impact what makes up standards for each region are highly nuanced and result in a wide array of dubbing processes.

Workflow Challenges

Dubbing methods are often quite complex and labor-intensive, which require a series of steps and human interaction for a high-quality and seamless dub. Alongside a back-log of content orders in some countries, we are also witnessing a lack of trained technical resources to cope with the expansion of dubbing requests. Finding the right voice and language talent can also be quite challenging, which we’re witnessing especially in non-English-to-non-English projects. With the demand for localised content, the full creative and technical process to produce a high-quality dub the industry is experiencing bottlenecks. Dubbing providers face increased pressure with respect to facilities, resources, and timelines. Plus, as discussed earlier different cultures, regions, and content types have different ways of dubbing a film or series – there is no one-size fits all approach.

So, how can we overcome these bottlenecks? Localisation Service Providers that have built up credibility in the marketplace understand the need and value in supporting the entire dubbing process – from script creation and adaptation, to sourcing voice talent, mixing, quality control and final delivery. Whether working in film, television, animated, children’s shows, scripted or unscripted; all types of content have their unique challenges and characteristics. Content Owners need partners that can react quickly, scale up a project where necessary, have access to all aspects of the supply chain, and ultimately help them enter new geographic regions/markets.

Advances in Technology vs. Quality

Indian global analytics and advisory company Astute Analytica reports a revenue rise from US$117 million to almost US$190 million by 2030 for the worldwide “automated dubbing” industry. In this report, film and television, followed by gaming, lead as the largest dubbing opportunities for future growth. Advances in technology are showing us what might be achieved using AI or machine learning algorithms, and as with much else in the world, automation is seemingly a logical next step toward increasing efficiencies. However, current synthetic dubbing technologies for features and TV do not yet align with premium content requirements and audience expectations. AI is augmenting many workflows, but for now, there is a creative integrity that is only available with human interaction and for jobs that demand this level of quality, human talent is still required.

This is of course an ever-evolving marketplace with new software and hardware solutions making it faster and easier to create reasonable-quality dubbed content. There are certain use cases where automated dubbing tools, with their processes- and cost-efficiencies, may help some content providers meet the increasing demand for content in native languages without the investment required for human talent. They tend to be for shortform projects like promo versioning, where quality standards are less complicated, and expectations are not as high. Synthesized voices, voice cloning, and deepfake technology using machine learning technologies are still young but developing. There are also considerations around the labor implications and the rights (and compensation) of voice and screen actors as artificial intelligence becomes more mainstream, generating synthetic versions of an actor’s voice.

We are still confident that higher quality dubbing allows viewers to become immersed in the story because it feels like a natural element of the entertainment as opposed to the distraction of listening to a dub. What will be “good enough” for audiences and what the overall consumer tolerance for automated dubbing will be – especially when it comes to dubbed short-form content – that’s the question a lot of us are asking ourselves. If the localisation isn’t good enough, will audiences switch off? Only time will tell.

Touching on the Human Element

The worldwide growth in the dubbing services business is touching on the human element of audiences building cultural understanding, removing cultural barriers, and gaining new experiences. Plus, localisation helps capture the emotional aspects and vision of the original content.

In recognition of consumer demand for more content, localised and dubbed content is a key differentiator for media companies to not only stand out, but also make the content more accessible. To maximize engagement, content providers must facilitate experiences that keep consumers coming back for more, and dubbing can certainly support that. It’s also an opportunity to home in on all the cultural differences and nuances and help bridge the gap between cultures that will help people around the world better relate to each other. International viewership trends are quickly shifting around the globe, and we appreciate the partnerships we have with our customers in maximizing the value of their content.

By Simon Constable, SVP Global Language Services, Visual Data