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Improving translation quality for Netflix content

The American streaming platform Netflix is a leading player in content globalization. Netflix has been investing in production, acquiring licenses for numerous national and international shows and movies, as well as providing various dubbing and subtitling options for multilingual content. In doing so, the company has transformed cultural industries with its global growth and development of streaming technology, enabling creators to reach wider audiences worldwide. Despite Netflix’s efforts, there is still an opportunity to improve the translation and localization of content and be as accurate as possible to the culture and message behind each production.

Despite Netflix’s efforts, there is still an opportunity to improve the translation and localization of content and be as accurate as possible to the culture and message behind each production.

A few months ago, a string of criticisms went viral on social media citing poor translations and dubbing in Netflix’s popular series Squid Game, produced in South Korea. Viewers argued that important nuances in the original dialogue had been lost when translated into other languages. In response, many professionals defended the company, stating that an accurate translation is almost impossible, since many culture-specific words or concepts are very difficult to translate, especially in the Korean language. Additionally, linguists require exceptional skills along with extended time and resources at their disposal to deliver translations that are as accurate as possible.

This controversy has pushed Netflix and other streaming companies to dedicate special attention and a larger budget to provide better translation of content for their users.

What has Netflix done to give English-speaking viewers access to international content?

In addition to increasing investment in production and licensing for foreign content and hiring more linguists and experts to provide translations, the streaming platform seeks to innovate by using machine technology to facilitate translations.

At an event organized by IMUG, in California in 2019, Kathy Rokni, Director of Globalization at Netflix, mentioned “our desire to delight members in ‘their’ language while staying true to creative intent and being mindful of cultural nuances is important to ensure quality.”

Although all these efforts are mainly made for the U.S. audience which represents 67% of its subscribers according to Statista, the United States is a melting pot of cultures with many subscribers that don’t consider English as their native language.

What about the subscribers who speak other languages or live outside the U.S.?

According to a recent EGA study, of the 15,000 Netflix subscribers surveyed in Spain, Germany, France and Italy, 61% had encountered poor-quality captioning or dubbing. And 70% have stopped watching a TV show or movie in the past year as a result.

In many cases, to translate content into other languages, Netflix uses the Language Pivot technique, also referred to as English Template. This practice consists of first translating the subtitle script into English and then translating it into another language. That means that non-English-speaking Netflix subscribers typically see subtitles that have been filtered through an English translation layer.

While Language Pivot can be more efficient and cut costs, in many cases this process can deteriorate the quality of the translation. Many experts consider it to be problematic when English mediates the expression of so many other languages when trying to offer audiences translated content that is faithful to the source.

Hence the importance of LSPs to offer quality translations in as many language combinations as possible to avoid losing the richness of a given language.

At ITC, we offer over 80 language combinations and have at our disposal more than 2,500 linguists around the world.

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