The move to digital has had a massive effect on post and localisation companies, says Mazin Al-Jumail
In the beginning, localised asset storage was on tape, floppy disc, film print and VHS master.
Producing content in these formats meant originating language subtitle and audio versions in relative independence.
Versions were produced in territory using local vendors. Fast-forward to today and almost all elements of production can be handled digitally.
The rise of VoD has led to the invention of multiple bespoke subtitle file formats and an out-ofcontrol, self-fulfilling attitude to localised assets has crept back into our supply chain.
Each platform demands its own bespoke specification on video, audio, metadata and, of course, subtitles. There are now more than 100 different subtitle formats.
But it’s not all bad news for content holders. Existing files can be repurposed, reversioned and exported to meet these new requirements, which is where most of the subtitle localisation work lies today.
Last month’s Media Entertainment & Services Alliance (MESA) Content Localisation Workshop brought together film studios, VoD distributors, broadcasters and service providers to discuss these issues and attempt to address how we can all move forward to create an improved workflow.
One of the big discussion points was budget versus profit.
Today’s shorter release windows allow less time to get content to market, which in turn leads to an increase in localisation costs and, ultimately, less lucrative VoD deals.
This has a domino effect on the service sector, which needs to adapt its ways to accommodate both price shrinkage and tighter deadlines - while still being asked to meet high standards.
Do producers care about the quality of foreign- language versions or is it just a tick-box in the post-production schedule?
Often it comes down to the latter, which is surprising when you consider the cost of producing and post-producing high-quality programmes - such as one very famous fantasy drama coming up for its fifth season.
Subtitling and dubbing costs are a drop in the ocean in comparison to the budgets of high-end dramas.
And the sales per territory will most likely be enormous.
But if the content goes to market with weak or hurried localisation, it has a detrimental effect on the brand.
Changes can be made to the supply chain to reduce the cost of localisation.
A more joined-up approach across theatrical, home video and broadcast windows would certainly help.
Assets such as subtitle files are now being passed through the chain and repurposed. Initiatives are being addressed at content holder level but it’s the ‘turning oil tanker’ effect.
One suggestion at the localisation workshop was to standardise file formats, cutting 100 down to a few.
This could also apply to video file format and player development.
One of the big takeaways from the workshop was the feeling that no matter where the industry is going, we are all in it together.
But until we have one common tongue, content will always need to be localised.
- Mazin Al-Jumaili is UK managing director, BTI Studios