What’s What in Media Localization, Part 3

In the previous Nimdzi Finger Food pieces of this series, we have discussed the nuances of AVT and media localization, as well as the differences between voice-over and dubbing.

Today is the turn for one of the most widespread services in media localization: subtitling.

Apart from the linguistic aspect of subtitling, there are technical considerations that must be taken into account. For example, the number of lines and of characters per line, the duration of the subtitle, the segmentation of sentences, the treatment of shot changes, to name but a few.

Netflix has done a great job putting some general guidelines together, as well as specific guidelines for each language. They have worked together with scholars and trainers to come up with the guidelines, which are a good example of fruitful collaboration between industry and academia.

A scene from Friends with closed subtitles on Netflix.

There are different types of subtitles:

  • Closed or open: closed subtitles can be activated or deactivated depending on viewers’ preferences, while open subtitles are burnt-in in the content and cannot be removed.
  • Pre-recorded or live: pre-recorded subtitles are created before the audiovisual content is released, while live subtitles are created simultaneously with the broadcasting, for example in the case of news or sports events. 
  • Verbatim or condensed: verbatim subtitles contain the dialogues word by word, without omitting anything, while condensed subtitles remove parts that are not essential for the message. In general, most subtitles are condensed because of character limitation constrains.
  • Intralingual or interlingual: intralingual subtitles convey the dialogues in the same language that are being spoken, while interlingual subtitles are a translation of the original script.

Whether people watch subtitled or dubbed content is a matter of preference, quite often related to habit.

Parrot Analytics surveyed viewers from Mexico, South Korea, Germany and the USA about their usage of subtitles. The results confirmed what was already expected:


Source: Parrot Analytics

Countries that have traditionally dubbed audiovisual content such as Germany present a low percentage of subtitling usage. North American viewers who are used to the original content in their mother tongue are also reluctant to use subtitles. While countries with less clear preference such as Mexico or South Korea are more balanced in the usage of subtitles compare to dubbing or original content.

It is important to know your audience and understand their preferences in order to provide the best user experience. Stay tuned for the next (and last) Nimdzi Finger Food on media localization terminology!

Nimdzi Finger Food is the bite-sized insight you need to fuel your decision-making today.

1 November 2019
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