Multimedia means Engagement
A strategic account director at SDL (part of RWS Holdings plc) since 2014, Jessica Roland works with selected enterprise customers to help them reach global audiences and enhance customer experience, increasingly via AI. Prior roles include leading enterprise software globalization teams and international product management.
An article published in Scientific American in 2012 asserted that “[s]ensory crosstalk helps us navigate the world.” It seems that humans are hard-wired with the ability to deal with multiple sensory inputs. It’s not surprising, therefore, that multimedia is so attractive and effective as a communications technique, especially during these pandemic times when there’s a distinct lack of face-to-face contact and interaction.
Multilingual multimedia production is one of the most interesting and high-growth areas in the localization industry, and the pandemic has only accelerated its growth. Our own experience shows a huge increase in demand. Media production increased by 50% in the last 4 months of 2020, a testament to the need for media content and how we responded to COVID-19 requirements. Quora Creative notes that audio as a standalone medium has been increasing, due to increasing use of digital assistant voice commands. Video as a standalone medium, in apps such as Instagram and TikTok, has become hugely popular according to Social Media Today. Audio and video together are riding a wave of unprecedented popularity as we all deal with remote work due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Video is already a proven winner
Video has already proven to be a valuable part of apps, eLearning, online product demos, and webinars. A picture is still worth a thousand words when it comes to showing viewers how to do a task, and it is well-established that video increases online audience engagement. In fact, an article from the marketing blog Convince and Convert reveals that the majority of web users prefer watching a video to reading words, that using videos on a landing page can increase conversions by 86%, and that the average user spends 88% more time on a website with video.
On-page engagement is a positive factor in search engine optimization (SEO). Video also helps improve organic search visibility, and many search engine algorithms are pivoting their ranking towards the inclusion of video, so not having video actually decreases the chances of audiences finding your brand.
Sabine Jolly, head of multimedia production at SDL (now part of the RWS Group) notes: “10+ years ago, media localization was the cherry on the cake, a nice to have if budgets allowed. Media is now the norm, the quickest and most effective way for brands to communicate with their audience be it internally or externally.”
Video consumption is changing
In today’s environment, there are several key factors influencing the way multimedia is being deployed and consumed. The introduction of 5G, for example, will eliminate many of the previous barriers that existed to further accelerating video content. Consumer consumption habits are also changing: younger audiences, born during the “internet age,” are consuming information in shorter formats and prefer images or video to reading text (think Instagram, TikTok, Pinterest), and there is a big rise in the use of internet-connected TV devices (CTV), as well as social media platforms. 43% of consumers are spending time on YouTube now, with TikTok being most popular among 18- to 24-year-olds.
The biggest recent change of all is that the COVID-19 pandemic is driving the widespread use of video, both live and pre-recorded, as a substitute for in-person communications. Working from home during COVID-19 is resulting in B2B video consumption becoming more like B2C consumption.
The pandemic is creating huge demand for video and opportunities for localizers
Since the start of the pandemic, global daily online content consumption has doubled, shifting from an average of three hours 17 minutes to six hours 59 minutes according to the marketing consulting agency WARC. Heavily contributing to this is the fact that most office workers are now working from home, and meeting with colleagues virtually has become the new normal. In October, Microsoft reported that Teams use had increased 50% over six months in 2020 to reach 115 million daily active users.
Whether it’s day-to-day video conferencing, or virtual events such as customer conferences and sales kickoffs, the global market size of virtual platforms was estimated in 2019 to be more than $77 billion. Since COVID-19, one virtual events platform reported its events are up 1000%, with over 52,000 events since the pandemic started, according to Forbes. Virtual platform use is projected to be over $404 billion by 2027.
These trends are creating major opportunities for translation and related localization services:
- For pre-recorded content, prepared LSPs could see video transcription, subtitling, and voiceover services growth, and cultural adaptation of content for international audiences.
- For real-time communications, whether in office meetings or virtual events, providers could see growth in on-line interpretation services, as well as growing use of speech recognition plus machine translation as supporting technologies.
For LSPs and their customers, the increase in pre-recorded video demand is exciting, but comes with a set of typical challenges (Figure 1).
While virtual event platform use is clearly growing, there are challenges to switching from in-person to digital meetings. One issue is that, as COVID-19 stretches on, workers are increasingly experiencing “digital event fatigue,” where they simply leave events early. In a study conducted by Redback Connect of digital events over a year-long period in 2019-2020, by the end of the study 86% of the 1,500 participants admitted leaving events early, versus 66% a year earlier. The reasons most commonly given for leaving were, surprisingly, not technical reasons, but had to do with the content and the way it was presented. If the content was not as expected, or the presentation was irritating, they left — far easier to do virtually than in-person!
Another challenge is enabling digital event interactivity for participants in different time zones or who speak different languages. Virtual events present a terrific opportunity for expanding event participation by making them accessible to participants with limited travel budgets. However, while broadband availability is improving in general, there are still many geographic areas with limited or poor-quality internet access, and also, of course, language coverage for those areas may not be part of the event plan. There are structural approaches to addressing this; for example, setting up a series of virtual hubs with a defined group of persons in one location. In COVID-19 times, this approach would need to be combined with proper distancing and mask precautions. Assuming that is in place, then the idea would be that each hub consists of a computer attached to a webcam and speakers, with a stable internet connection, so that multiple participants can benefit from the same infrastructure. Conference fees can be spread across hub participants to make participation more affordable.
COVID-19 is driving B2B to become more like B2C
With the digital fatigue factor mentioned above, there is a definite trend toward shorter-form content, for both consumers and businesses. According to Splash, an event marketing technology company, fewer than 7% of event attendees believe virtual events should be longer than an hour, while 97% of companies have had to adapt their format during the pandemic. At SDL’s own event, the Tridion Expert Summit, our marketing team found that sessions of no longer than 45 minutes (versus the traditional hour) were the optimal amount of time for a virtual session. This seems likely to be a long-term change, as in-person conferences are not coming back in force anytime soon.
Other signs of the changing event landscape: according to Yahoo! Money, 43% of companies moved all events to virtual and are hosting more virtual events than originally planned, while 79% of companies now expect to host events that include an online component, even once in-person events resume.
Figure 1: Typical multimedia challenges for LSPs.
Another way that B2B multimedia consumption is becoming more like B2C is that B2B viewers are not only consuming more online content, they also have their own way of binging. B2B content platform PathFactory recently reported that B2B customers and prospects who often access marketing content are now on average spending an almost 20 minutes engaging with online marketing assets. While nothing like the time investment in binging Netflix content, this is still a seven-fold increase from the previous average.
Also, during the pandemic, B2B customers and prospects have been returning to the same content more frequently, similar to how consumers return to their favorite content. Komarketing.com reports B2B viewers returned to consume content an average of 3.92 times at the height of the pandemic (Figure 2), which is a 43.3% increase over the period from earlier measurements. Really good content? Or pandemic lock-down memory loss? Either way, readers are coming back to savor that content again!
Splash reports that 66% of their survey respondents are still using the same event tech as they did before COVID-19 forced everything online. But shortened viewer attention spans are driving creative B2B content producers to focus more on “entertainment” — another way B2B content is becoming B2C-ish. For example, in virtual events, beyond making sure that the content itself is compelling, getting people to stay in the sessions can be encouraged by the event structure — keeping shorter sessions with plenty of breaks. Other tips include using celebrity emcees and having swag available in either digital form (like free eBooks) or sending it in physical form to participants willing to provide their home address for that purpose. In-conference tools like poll-ing technology and breakout rooms are frequently used to encourage event participants to stay engaged. And because what is “entertaining” differs from culture to culture, this can represent marketing solutions consulting opportunities for experienced LSPs.
How the localization industry is responding
At the Tridion Expert Summit in December, we learned firsthand the challenges of turning an in-person conference of several hundred international attendees into a successful virtual event. Jessica Connolly, SDL’s events manager, learned that when working with virtual event platforms, all the details need to be worked out well ahead of time and perfected. There is very little margin for last-minute maneuvers or improvising solutions. “Connect was a mix of pre-recorded and live,” she noted. “Pre-recorded is easier for organizers, and live is easier for speakers. Presenters tend to work on content up until the last minute. Pre-recording allows for adding graphics and flair to increase content engagement.”
Juniper Networks also had its first virtual customer conference in 2020, and successfully translated pre-recorded content to provide a stellar experience for worldwide attendees throughout several regional broadcasts. They were so successful that Juniper received the 2020 award for Best Globalization of an Event from the virtual platform provider ON24. Silvia Avary, Juniper’s head of globalization, led an agile localization effort that was key to the company deliver-ing its first-ever global virtual customer event in just 45 days, earning praise from CMO Mike Marcellin for “far exceeding outcomes and our historical in-person event averages.”
Figure 2: The average number of sessions per B2B visitor increased at the height of the pandemic. Source: Komarketing.com.
Another remarkable example of virtual conference mastery is the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. They had a head start on virtual conferences, many years in advance of COVID-19, as their semiannual General Conference has been broadcast to their millions of members for years. Up until 2020 they combined the broadcast with substantial in-person attendance, but with the 2020 COVID-19 shutdown, they needed to go completely virtual. With all their previous experience, it was no problem! They have an amazing team who pre-translates planned conference content, which is then delivered by English speakers who are video-recorded with simultaneous voiceover interpretation. Viewers choose what language they want to hear via a drop-down on the broadcast web page. Switching back and forth between the many avail-able languages is both easy and fascinating. The interpretation is live in order to capture any ad hoc changes the speakers may feel inspired to make. After the conference, the original translations are updated to match the recordings of the videos and interpretation. It is a very effective combination of translation, interpretation, and technology that ensures high-quality translation while allowing speakers flexibility. These are just a few examples of how companies are successfully using multimedia for virtual events, remote meetings and for online content in general.
- Technology is key for video translation — software that handles automatic creation of transcripts and subtitles, and allows for easy review, makes the process much faster and less error-prone.
- Machine translation (MT) can be used to get a head start on the process, but for video content MT is best used in combination with human post-editing to ensure proper quality.
- Customers may mix in live interpretation when perfect real-time understanding is necessary. This applies to virtual work meetings as well as conferences. For example, product management teams getting worldwide feedback on product demos find live interpretation very useful to ensure accurate understanding and to be able to probe when necessary.
- Getting the source right is also crucial. An experienced LSP will provide checklists and education to ensure customers do not have to redo video translation work.
- For virtual summits where a live speaker and live interpretation is planned, it is prudent to have pre-recordings avail-able as a contingency plan, in case there are platform issues.
- To maximize viewer engagement in these times of shorter attention span, virtual summits need to be entertaining as well. Of course, as previously mentioned, how to be entertaining differs from culture to culture. Larger LSPs with marketing solution services can provide cultural consulting to help customers avoid gaffes.
- Make it easy for international customers to feel engaged by taking the time and care to create culturally appropriate event content in their own language.
- Getting the right combination of technology, language and cultural know-how for successful content, meetings, and events is incredibly complex.
Figure 3: Pleasantville (New Line Cinema, 1998).
The future If we look beyond current video business usage in online pre-recorded content and events and into the future, there is some indication that virtual reality broadcasts, virtual world-style meeting environments, and augmented reality apps may be the next challenge for localizers. We already see the beginnings of this in the gaming world, where localizers are already active. So perhaps the line between business multimedia communications and gaming will be fuzzier in the future, further blurring the line between B2B and B2C style. The business localization challenges then could include localized gesture recognition, for example. Will video, audio and virtual experiences as we know them today be around in 10 years? Hard to tell. We’ve seen with COVID-19 how little certainty there really is. In the inimitable words of George and Betty Parker from the 1998 film Pleasantville (Figure 3):
“So what’s going to happen now?”
“I don’t know. Do you know what’s going to happen now?” (Laughing) “No — I don’t!”