Globalization means more eager buyers for language services

This may still be a down economy, but don’t tell that to the folks in the businesses of translating, dubbing, subtitling and closed-captioning.

“It’s a growth industry,” says Deeny Kaplan, exec veep of TM Systems unit The Kitchen, which provides audiovisual language services based on proprietary technology. “There’s a huge market for programming, and you have to think globally now.”

Kaplan cites “I Love Lucy,” which took 50 years to become available around the world in translation. “It’s ridiculous. but no one was thinking globally back in the ’50s.”

Times have changed, and film and TV producers today have to cater to audiences in Peru and Pakistan as well as Peoria or lose substantial revenue. And to help with the daunting task of translating thousands of projects into dozens of languages, such companies as SDI Media, The Caption Center, Deluxe Digital Studios (DDS), Captions, Inc., Vitac and The Kitchen increasingly rely on sophisticated software and automation.

Founded in 1972, The Caption Center was the world’s first captioning service, pioneering access to television and film for deaf and hard-of-hearing viewers. Today, the Center, part of The Media Access Group at Boston public station WGBH, captions “over 110 movies a year for all the major studios,” says the center’s Mary Watkins. “We do both real-time and off-line captioning, and we aim for 99 percent accuracy. Anything less is useless.”

Over the years Watkins has seen “big changes and advances,” especially in software tools. “But,” she cautions, “there’s simply no substitute for the human brain when it comes to quality and accuracy.”

SDI Media, whose clients include the Disney Channel, DreamWorks, Cartoon Network, Warner Bros., NBC Universal and Paramount, services 32 countries and 52 languages, says CEO Walter Schonfeld: “We do everything from movies to TV and gaming, and use a number of proprietary tools, including our Global Titling System (GTS) for subtitles, and Pro Tools for dubbing.”

Captions, Inc. was founded in 1986 by Lee Jordan, who previously worked for ABC and received an engineering Emmy in 1980 for a closed captioning system. Today, the company uses its proprietary SubEdit system to create caption, subtitle and specialty text files for film studios, art houses and television for output to broadcast, home video, DVD and Blu-ray. “We’re currently working on an application for 3D subtitling,” says GM Elizabeth DeKam.

At Vitac, Yelena Makarczyk, director of subtitling operations, is a passionate advocate for accuracy and the importance of timing in achieving high-quality results for such clients as Discovery Channel, E1, Flannel and Image Entertainment. “We really focus on the editing aspect and the timing,” she stresses, “and we always go four frames before the initial audio — that way you preserve the original rhythm, which is crucial. And at the other end, you need at least one second so the audience can read the subtitle properly.”

Vitac uses its proprietary VNL software for closed-captioning in English and Spanish, and Swift for all other languages. “I love languages, and automation helps, but it’ll never replace the human touch,” says Makarczyk.

With markets expanding globally, “clients need increasingly fast turnarounds,” Kaplan points out. TM Systems’ tools allow the translator to see the picture, time code and video. “That makes it a lot faster, and the combination of that great technology with extremely knowledgeable translators gives you the best result,” she says.

Another major player, Deluxe Digital Studios (DDS), has five international offices and employs 3,000 translators worldwide, says COO Morgan Fiumi. “For movies and TV, automation plays a small part, as the quality’s just not good enough,” he says. “But if you’re looking for localized streams — whether closed captioned or subtitled files — to search content on the Internet or digital archive, then an automated translation can do.”

DDS has invested heavily in a database on-line workflow management system, which helps the company schedule and assign work to its translators. “They use our OMS system and our proprietary desktop software, Eddie, which allows them to do the translations and then upload them directly back to the database,” adds Fiumi.

Jeff Miller, Disney’s prexy of worldwide post and operations, oversees foreign-language versions for the company’s family of networks, in over 45 languages. “We were one of the first operations of its kind, and we’re one of the biggest contracting suppliers worldwide,” he says. “Automation is a good starting point for subtitling, but dubbing is far more complex because you have to match lip movements.”

Fiumi notes that while automation has improved, “it’ll be a very long time before it replaces the human touch — if ever,” and he stresses that while such recent advances as Google’s automated translation tool is “great for anyone watching free content,” it’s “not good enough” for a movie.

The others are quick to agree. “Deadlines and budgets are shortening and shrinking,” notes DeKam. “Pressures are mounting to finish caption and translation files quicker. And with increased automated workflow coordination efficiencies we will, but never with shortchanging the human element in our caption and translation file creation.”

“When you translate from one language to another, it has to be done by a human being who understands nuances and slang in both languages,” notes Kaplan. “We’ve done ‘South Park’ for nine years, and there’s no way it’ll make sense in Spanish or French as a direct translation. That can’t be done by a machine. It’s impossible.”

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