How Multimedia Localization can Help Companies Expand Internationally

By Maya Tsirulnik 

As the world is becoming more interconnected and globalized, companies both large and small are expanding internationally. While there are many components to international marketing success, multimedia localization is truly the key. A recent study by Wyzowl found that people watch an average of 19 hours of online video per week. And another study by Cisco Visual Networking Index found that internet traffic from videos will make up 82% of all consumer internet traffic in 2022. Because of statistics like these, top global brands are investing heavily in captivating audiences with videos and voices that draw in potential customers.

They are keenly aware that the power of video lies in its ability to tell stories and convey emotions through images and sound. This emotional connection has the potential to go much deeper than any other medium because it stimulates the senses all at once, creating a powerful experience for the viewer.

Well-established international brands also realize that marketing campaigns aren’t only about advertisements. They know that in order to maximize profits, their global salesforce and staff need proper training in the form of localized video demonstrations and elearning courses.

To reach international customers and employees, translation is obviously necessary. However, it’s not just about translating words — it’s about understanding cultural nuances and adapting content for use in different countries. Every language has its own specific dialects, social conventions, cultural norms, and legal standards that must be followed to be accurate and acceptable.

In a November 2021 report on consumer viewing habits, Entertainment Globalization Association along with Whip Media surveyed over 15,000 consumers from France, Italy, Germany, and Spain about their viewing habits on streaming platforms. They found that 61% of respondents encountered poor localization quality on a monthly basis and that 65% stopped watching a movie or TV show in the last year as a result. This is one of countless examples that points to how crucial multimedia localization is to international business.

Video content is a large part of multimedia localization. Whether the goal is to convince someone to buy a product or service or train them to do a job, it’s the “voice” of the company that is used in video to make a connection with people. This is exactly why voiceovers (also known as dubbing) are an integral part of the international marketing process.

From TV commercials, radio spots, and online videos to elearning courses and on-hold messages, voiceovers (and their text-based counterparts called subtitles) are just about everywhere. This type of medium is especially effective considering that people often make purchasing decisions or learn important information based on what they hear and see rather than what they read. A 2021 study by Animoto found that 93% of consumers said video is helpful when purchasing a product. The study shows that when learning about a new product or service, consumers prefer video over reading about it or looking at photos of it. Also, surveyors felt that video was their favorite type of content from brands on social media.

But exactly how do multimedia localization, voiceovers and subtitling work together? And what do you need to know in order to assist your clients with international expansion? Keep reading, because we’ve put together guidance to help you navigate the often-confusing world of foreign language voiceover production.

  Don’t Get Lost in Translation

Let’s say, for instance, your client has a successful marketing video that has already been produced in English. Now it needs a foreign language voiceover. As we mentioned, the voiceover process begins with translation into a target language. From the very start of the process, the translator must have access to the English version of the video.

This is because once the text is translated, the translator needs to read it back to the video to ensure that it’s in sync. If it’s not, and the translated script is too long or short, the voice actor will be forced to speak too fast or too slow in order to match the length of the video. The audio also won’t match what’s happening in the video. In the event that the translator can’t read the translation back to the video at a normal speaking pace, the text must be shortened or amended.

As an example, languages like Arabic and Hindi are spoken at a slower speed than English. That’s why it’s usually recommended that Arabic or Hindi translations be shortened in order to fit them into a video. In some cases, voices over talents for these projects are instructed to speak faster.

  Timed vs. Untimed Voice Overs (Dubbing)

If a foreign language voiceover is needed to match an English version of a video, it’s called a timed voiceover or timed dubbing. Timed dubbing is the process of matching sync points at the beginning and ending of each sentence.

When working with a voiceover artist or agency on a timed project, it’s the industry standard to provide a script that includes timestamps corresponding to the video. This bilingual script should be provided in a two-column format with English on the left and the foreign language on the right. The artist or agency will also need any music track or sound effect files that are to be used in the video.

Often, timed dubbing is confused with lip syncing process. Lip syncing is much more complex than timed dubbing — a process of matching mouth movements and depends on a syllable-by-syllable translation.

As an example, a timed voiceover for a one-hour English video that needs to be dubbed into a foreign language takes about 11 hours. The lip-syncing process for the same video takes three to four times longer (or between 33 to 44 hours).

Here’s how this is calculated:
Approximately 150 words are recorded per minute, or 840 words per hour.
60 minutes video x 150 = 9,000 words per hour.
9,000/840 = 11 hours of dubbing.

A one hour video requires about 11 hours of dubbing. As mentioned, lip syncing takes three to four times longer.

Now, what if your client wants to create voiceovers for an elearning course to allow their international employees to learn about company culture and expectations? Elearning courses as well as other projects like phone prompt recordings typically don’t need to include timestamps. These types of voiceovers can be performed using a natural speaking pace. Therefore, they’re known as untimed voiceovers or untimed dubbing. Untimed voiceover projects have no time constraints and can be recorded at any speed or pace as required by the client.

  Subtitling Challenges

Voiceovers aren’t the only way to help present foreign language multimedia to viewers. Subtitles are also commonly used in videos.

These allow people who don’t understand the language to be able to see what is being said on-screen. In addition, subtitles are very useful for deaf or hard-of-hearing individuals.

When you have a subtitling project, you should be aware of some challenges that may arise during the production process. Working with foreign language fonts during the subtitling process can be quite a challenge, even for production studios. Multilingual engineers are needed to handle the placement of the subtitles. Most of these engineers are familiar with a vast number of fonts in different languages. After all, a font style that may be acceptable to people in one country may not be acceptable to people in another.

Typically, subtitles are placed on the bottom of the video in an area known as the “lower third.” This may also present a challenge when there is on-screen text involved. In these instances, the engineer must decide whether to redesign the graphic, remove the graphic, or take another course of action. If a graphic is required to be moved, then the studio must request the original source file used to create the video. This can lead to additional time needed to complete the project. The easiest course of action to avoid graphics in the “lower third” is to simply move the subtitles to the top of the video until the graphic leaves the screen.

Fun fact:
The German word “Kraftfahrzeug-Haftpflichtversicherung” has 36 letters and means “motor vehicle liability insurance”. Here’s an example of a subtitling nightmare that includes this very long term: “Seine Kraftsfahrzeug-Haftpflichtversicherungsbescheinigung war seit Wochen überfällig.”

This sentence means “His motor vehicle liability insurance certificate was weeks overdue.” It sounds a lot shorter in English, doesn’t it?

Here’s how this dilemma can be resolved by a multilingual engineer: Roughly 42 characters can be used per line, so the German sentence would need to be split up into two screens instead of one.

The Benefits of Working with a Voice Over Agency 

Regardless of whether a timed or untimed voiceover is needed, many companies choose to work with foreign language production companies rather than individual voice talents. In working with an agency, clients get access to an entire team of professionals who specialize in language localization. These include a pool of qualified voice talents, language directors, and sound engineers who are trained in working with multiple languages. These professionals have skill sets that help them understand and analyze the localization process and handle language and sound nuances.

Production studios also have expertise with industry-standard software such as Adobe Audition and After Effects as well as Vegas Pro. Collectively, these programs can handle everything from recording, mixing, and mastering to special effects, digital compositing, 3D animation, motion graphics, and more.

When in Doubt, Ask the Experts 

We hope this guidance provides you with some insight into the world of voiceover production with a focus on translation, localization, dubbing, and subtitles. While we covered the general differences between voiceovers and subtitles as well as timed and untimed scripts, it’s important to keep in mind that every project is different. 

Maya Tsirulnik is Vice President of Sales at Metro Audio and Video.


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