Dubbing, Voiceovers, or Subtitles
What’s the best choice for reaching global audiences?

By Maya Tsirulnik

In the previous article of our series on helping businesses expand globally, we covered the first step of this process: multilingual localization. Using this foundation we would like to dive deeper into the details of a successful expansion into international markets by utilizing post-production multimedia. We’ll cover the next step: What’s the best way to carry your message to a diverse audience?

Multimedia post-production offers various ways to reach your audience. The most popular of these include dubbing, voiceovers, and subtitling. Each method has its own benefits and drawbacks, so it’s important for a company to evaluate all pros and cons in order to choose the right one for its goal.

Millward Brown, a global research agency specializing in advertising effectiveness, once tested two versions of an advertisement for a personal care brand. Both ads ended with the same end frame and the message “developed with experts.” In the first version of the ad, the company’s message was only visual. It resonated with 17% of the audience. The second version used a voiceover to relay the message and resonated with 44% of the audience.

This study demonstrates that a voiceover can help to create more of an emotional response in the listener, which in turn leads to increased trust in a brand.

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Is there a difference between dubbing and a voiceover?

The difference between dubbing and voiceovers can, understandably, cause quite a bit of confusion. Both are post-synchronization methods, adding recorded dialogue to a video, film, or television program that was not recorded during filming. However, these two methods involve different processes.

Voiceovers simply require voice actors to act and record their lines, while dubbing also involves timing to match everything up — from the on-screen images to the actors’ lip movements and actions. Dubbing also requires the talent to match the tone and emotion of the original audio. As such, the dubbing process requires more time than a voiceover. Typically, one hour of voiceover work takes three to four hours of dubbing work.

In general, dubbing is great for:

  • TV shows
  • Movies
  • News
  • Documentaries
  • Voiceovers are most often used for:
  • Corporate videos
  • e-Learning courses
  • Training videos
  • Product demonstrations
  • Internal monologue in a film
  • Video games

The translation and localization processes differ for dubbing and voiceovers. For example, translations for timed dubbing projects cannot be longer than the source text. However, when it comes to voiceover projects, translations can be more flexible in length than their source versions.

For instance, a dubbing project translated from English into a language such as German, Russian, Lao, or Hmong often requires more summarizing, because these languages tend to use longer (or more) words to convey the same message than in English. In cases like these, a translator must use fewer words in order to match the English timing for dubbing. If this was a voiceover project, the translator would not have to be so concerned about language expansion.

Before a company chooses between dubbing and a voiceover, it’s also important to consider the creative direction of the project. Ultimately, the best approach is the one that will work best for the project as a whole. For example, there’s a possibility that dubbing can change the original tone of a film. If a film is set in a specific time period or location, dubbing can often lose the feeling of authenticity. Additionally, if a film contains a lot of colloquialisms or regional dialects, these can often be lost in translation.

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What is subtitling?

Subtitling is the process of creating text captions to accompany a video. Typically, subtitles are displayed in a two-line format at the bottom of the screen.

Subtitles can be used to provide translation or simply to make the video more accessible to viewers who are deaf or hard of hearing. Subtitles can also serve as captions for videos that are being shown in a noisy environment, such as a bar or club.

There are many different benefits to using subtitling. Subtitles are generally less expensive than dubbing and voiceovers, and require less time to create.

For example, if a project involves dubbing or a voiceover, the voice talent must be present in the recording studio. These projects also require a sound engineer as well as a language director to assist with pronunciation and tone. However, when a project involves subtitling, the only expert needed is a video engineer who specializes in the languages required. The video engineer must have access to a bilingual script translated specifically for subtitles. A bilingual script is often used in films and videos that are shown in multiple countries. It includes the dialog in the original and translated language, as well as any sound effects or other auditory cues.

It’s important to keep in mind that subtitles aren’t always the best solution for every video. For example, if a film has many fast-paced or action-packed scenes and the dialog is happening quickly, it might be difficult for viewers to read the subtitles and also understand what is happening in the scene. In this case, a voiceover would be a better option because the viewers would be able to listen to the dialog and also see what is happening.

In general, subtitling is most effective when the video content is clear and concise, and when the audio is not essential to understanding the video.

What do audiences prefer?

When deciding between dubbing, voiceovers, and subtitling, companies must take into account their audience’s preferences.

Every year, Netflix interviews thousands of people to find out what they want from the service. Recently, a majority of consumers in the US told the company that they wanted to watch foreign titles in the original audio alongside English subtitles. However, the team at Netflix wasn’t so confident that this was the case. So, they streamed a dubbed version of the French show “Marseille” to a group of viewers. They found that those who watched the dubbed streams were more likely to finish the whole series than those who watched it with subtitles. This led to Netflix’s decision to stream dubbed versions of shows by default, while still giving users the ability to switch to the originals with subtitles.

In general, audiences who prefer voiceovers or dubbing often say that these methods make it easier to focus on the plot of the film rather than trying to read subtitles. This is especially true when the film is action-packed or has many characters on-screen at the same time. Additionally, when viewers hear actors’ voices in their own language, many feel it’s easier to understand the plot and the characters’ motivations. And some people simply enjoy doing other activities like cooking or working while listening to (versus reading) the dialog.

On the other hand, audiences who prefer subtitles tend to think that dubbing can be distracting, making it difficult to follow the plot of the film. These audiences often point out that they can’t connect with the characters because the voices of the original actors have been replaced with voices that are not as well-known. In some cases, when the dubbing is not professionally done, lip-syncing can be inaccurate and cause a further disconnect.

Those who prefer subtitles also dislike when dubbing removes the actor’s original expressions and intonation. For example, in the French film Amélie, the main character tells her love interest that she will love him “eternally.” Originally, this line was delivered with a great deal of emotion and intonation. But when it was dubbed into English, it sounded flat and monotone, which completely changed its meaning.

Proponents of subtitling also point out that the method helps deaf or hard-of-hearing people in addition to helping viewers learn new languages. After all, subtitles are an audio guide for how words should be pronounced.

When in doubt, consult a voiceover agency

There are many things to consider when choosing between dubbing, voiceovers, or subtitles for an international project. A company needs to decide what will work best for the target audience, taking into account things like language barriers and cultural differences. It will also need to consider the budget and how much time is available to work on the project.

If the answers still aren’t clear, working with a voiceover agency can be a great option. A voiceover agency can help companies of all sizes choose the best approach for a project and can even provide the necessary resources to get the job done successfully.

Maya Tsirulnik is vice president of sales at Metro Audio and Video.

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