27 Jan /22

Why Steven Spielberg says no to subtitling

Why Steven Spielberg says no to subtitling
Why Steven Spielberg says no to subtitling

For marketers looking to create subtitles or voice-overs for video content, Steven Spielberg raises an interesting issue about understanding your target demographic.

Why Steven Spielberg said no to subtitling his latest film

There’s been a lot of research in recent years into the traditional practice of delivering commercial content in English to markets where English is not the first language (Common Sense Advisory, Nimdzi Insights). To an extent, the English-speaking world has been able to rely on this approach. Based on research by globalization and localization market research firms, however, data now shows explicitly that most non-English speaking consumers prefer to make purchases in their own language. It’s time to change the approach.

Localizing commercial video content for international audiences

As more businesses seek to globalize, it has become increasingly important to nail the global customer experience. The demand for effective translation and localization is increasing. Video localization – the task of recreating original video content in new languages – is booming for the language services industry.  In 2021, Slator, a market research firm, estimated the global market for this service to be worth USD 4.97bn.

Businesses can engage consumers through video content using a mix of services: subtitling, voice-over/dubbing, on-screen text localization and cultural adaptation for scripts. Most marketers will champion a more personalized customer experience, so it makes sense for businesses to localize video in this way.

So what is the case for not subtitling video content?

But Steven Spielberg highlights an issue surrounding subtitling for us all to think on with his latest movie: it’s a remake of the classic movie West Side Story, which features the English-speaking Caucasian Jets and the Spanish-speaking Puerto Rican Sharks. At a virtual press conference, on the topic of translating Spanish content for the audience he explained: “it was out of respect that we didn’t subtitle any of the Spanish. That language had to exist in equal proportions alongside the English with no help.”

Writing about the press conference comments, Kirsten Acuna of Insider magazine added: “By making this creative choice, Spielberg is challenging his audience to instead ‘speak Spanish‘, and no longer be ignorant of a culture that represents 19% of the United States’ population (62.1 million) as of 2020.”

This is an innovative approach.

But what does it mean for commercial content?

Localized video for international markets vs original video for each individual market

When creating video content for overseas markets, a simple option is to recreate the source language content in the new language. So, your English video now has a Spanish voice-over or Spanish subtitling. But it’s important to consider the target market.

If the video is very simple and has a very generic theme, perhaps a Spanish voice-over or Spanish subtitling will suffice. But it’s also worth considering whether you could produce original content for that market instead. Creating something broad in its themes might appeal to different markets, but the alternative is to make multiple videos that really deliver on cultural relevance and authenticity. For large businesses, this may already be the norm, but for smaller sized companies it may be something to think over.

Providing a personalized customer experience

This all ties in with a basic advertising fundamental: understand who your consumers are.

There are many countries around the world which use two or more languages within daily life. Based on your product and the demographic or geographical location that your business is targeting, which language or language variants would be most suitable for the content? Try to avoid something like this scenario: subtitling created by your Spanish team which is intended for a Mexican audience.

It’s important to consider these and other questions about video localization before your teams move to create and distribute content to globally based audiences.

Want to learn more about how a translation company can support businesses with video content? Contact our team today and they can guide you through the process of video localization.

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