"In the vast universe, the earth is just a little white dot, but this little white dot is everything to us." – Liu Peiqiang, "The Wandering Earth II," China Film Co., 2022
After five years of chaos, the film/show industry really has become both global and local which is one of the reasons for attending this year's IBC in Amsterdam (Sep 15–18).
Creating great content and sharing it anywhere, anytime on any screen with everyone is now at the very core of the industry.
IBC brings all of the tools/technology/techniques, technologists and creatives together to share stories of our global culture imagery.
It's ironic that it took something like the pandemic and streaming media to make people realize globally that we have a lot more in common than differences.
In anemic ways, pay TV and theater chains like to say that's what they've been doing all along.
We, in turn, have felt they've been the major gatekeepers as to what people get to see in their respective countries for a long time.
Global video streaming has been the key to our understanding/appreciation regarding many of the same stories – drama, romcom, action, sci–fi, horror, cartoons etc. – whether we're Romanian, Roman, Canadian, Croation, Kiwi, Korean, child or adult.
When Netflix rolled out Squid Game and La Casa de Papel, it wasn't exactly certain how its largest market segment (the Americas) would greet the South Korean– or Spanish– (respectively) based series.
However with the major studios withholding their movies/shows for their own streaming service, Hastings and Sandaros both felt it was time to prove that video content really doesn't recognize borders but rather people – everywhere – to enjoy good stories effectively presented.
may also have added, "we're global video story tellers, let's really be global."
Hot Commodities – Streamers are getting more sophisticated in what they watch. The old pay TV game shows, formula series and reality stuff just isn't as interesting as great video stories created by people with a different perspective/outlook. Cookie cutter shows/movies just aren't enticing.
Of course, they – and those who followed – did have a little "assistance" from governments around the globe who said if you would like to entertain our folks, 30–40 percent of the content has to produced locally by local creatives.
Disney, Apple, Amazon already knew the importance of regional engagement as they've been global enterprises for years.
That said, one of the biggest obstacles that was facing them to accomplish a connection with every member of the audience around the world was figuring out a strategy to address the fact that there are 7,139 known languages spoken in a world of nearly 8B people.
What was fortunate though was that 4.5B of those 8B speak more than a couple of languages of the 23 most common languages used today.
There was a time, back in the day, when preparing films/shows for audiences to view/enjoy in the various countries was laborious, time–consuming and ... expensive.
One Inch – Subtitles can be disrupting to many people who want to watch, get involved with movies/shows. They aren't really bad once you get accustomed to watching the action and reading the subs. Bong Joon–ho surprised many when "Parasites" swept the Oscars and other awards.
You had/have two choices subtitles, what Bong Joon Ho (Parasite), called the one–inch barrier.
Early Dubs – During his film making career, Godzilla's dubbed performers got better dialogue and the production team constantly improved the quality of the franchise as newer technology was available.
Or let's say dubbing as they did with one of our faves, 1964 Mothra vs Godzilla.
Sure, the lip sync was not entirely synced, and the words didn't follow the lip movement exactly; but gawd, Godzilla had great special effects that you could see improve over the franchise's years as did the dialogue, the dubbing and visual mapping.
Watching More – Watching films/shows in another language has almost become a badge of honor for people to know/experience more of the world around them. They may prefer the project in their local language but if only subtitles are available, they'll "adapt."
Then there are some members of the audience that don't really care if they have to concentrate on the action and the one–inch barrier while others have to have the content in the language they speak/understand.
Okay, we get it.
More importantly, the streamers get it when they're trying to appeal to people in 100–190 countries.
Recently, we became more than a little interested in the "new" dialogue techniques at the HPA (Hollywood Professional Association) earlier this year.
The James Cameron team not only produced another tentpole film – Avatar: The Way of Water – but they did the seemingly impossible – 1,065 versions of the film to be shown on 208,000 big digital screens around the globe.
No small task!
Their goal was to give economically (time and budget) give theatergoers a localized version of the visual phenomenon.
All of the postproduction juggling, and exact preparation was beyond interesting.
There was the assistance of new generative AI tools. Some were actually created during the production, which helped folks connect with a story they could fully understand and appreciate––initially in 51 language subtitles and 28 dubbed localized languages.
No Matter – Regardless of the country the film/show is produced in, English is still the dominant language; but increasingly, content creators are making them available in more of the "major" languages that are read and understood.
Of course, even with this provisioning, it didn't give everyone who went to the movie house the film in their language but in every country, but pretty darn close. The only exception was in the U.S. where even English sometimes sounds like a foreign language. But, as previously mentioned, most folks have the good fortune to speak two, three or more languages, so they were happy.
After the HPA presentations, we thought maybe – just maybe – the evolution of generative AI isn't being introduced to do mankind in but could perhaps be in the position when through creative collaboration could be a valuable tool for film/show creatives.
Maybe ... Perhaps.
It has certainly been a stimulus for film and show production in countries everywhere.
Content Leaders – While some countries produce only 10–100 films each year, the U.S. is still the content creation "headquarters." However, great creators are emerging from around the globe and so are outstanding films/shows.
Last year, more than 40,000 films and far more shows/series were produced.
English was the most commonly used language in the films but Mandarin and French rank second and third (respectively)
Production Centers – New production facilities and improved creative work are emerging in almost every country on the globe, thanks to economic tools and techniques that have folks develop/produce great films/shows. Great content is being developed almost everywhere.
The great thing has been the demand for streaming services – for new, unique content that has stimulated the rapid increase in quality/quantity from all of the creation centers in APAC, LatAm, Africa and the Middle East.
"As in a number of technical areas, Netflix has also contributed strongly in the development of the industry standards and efforts for open–source solutions with SMPTE (Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers) and AMPAS (American Motion Picture Arts and Sciences) Software Foundation) to help globalize local production and distribution."
"Of course, this is in their best interests." he added. "By consistently commissioning content from global markets with local creators and making localization of the content readily available, they can easily/economically enrich their library and thus enhance subscriber interest and engagement."
Preferred – The best way to ensure that people will watch your video story is to dub it in the local language but if folks have to, they will adapt and watch the film/show in the original language with subtitles.
With a global understanding in the overall need for localization and economics being key, all of the studios/streamers require a global investment with foreign production facilities, McLennan observed.
Disney has greenlighted a slate of European and Asian originals including new series from France, Germany, South Korea, Japan and Indonesia.
While WBD has removed a lot of titles from their Max offering, they have doubled down on local language products in Europe, Asia and South America.
Apple and Amazon have also ramped up their international acquisitions and project production.
In other words, global VOD has had a very positive effect on the video creation industry. With more production facilities being built, more projects are being produced, which means more experience for producers, directors, production/post teams.
And that's probably why there is a strong interest in having AI help out initially in the subbing––that is, if it can increase its accuracy from where it sits today. This point will be a widely discussed topic at IBC.
Fast Dub Growth – Streaming services want more locally produced content to show to the country's audience but they also need to amortize the production cost. By dubbing the story in more languages, they can appeal to more viewers wherever they live. AI–based solutions are making dubbing faster, easier, more accurate and more economic.
"Subtitling can certainly be less expensive than dubbing," Allan McLennan, c,g,a, 2G Digital Optimization, noted, "but viewers who aren't used to them or have controls in managing their presence on their screen can find them distracting and sometimes hard to follow. So, studios and streamers look long and hard at what provides the best internationalized engagement which can have an impact on the final economics and the value of the final project. That's why it has become critically important to work with "post–post" houses that have deep experience.
"The newer AI–enhanced dubbing/localizing techniques have become more readily used today than even a year or two ago," he added. "In fact, even radio play is now being highly nuanced with a limited number of languages. Audiences have proven to like this approach to enhance voice, language and though television or film the facial movement ‘reality.'
"Increasingly it's everyone's goal – studios, producers, streamers – to be seamless and transparent."
What we're hoping to find out more about at IBC is intelligent media optimization (platform accuracy, insight, efficiency, and regional understanding)––things McLennan mentioned, and we heard discussed at Avatar's HPA presentations.
In other words, how close is it to a real solution that creators and services can count on to do a few key things – make the new stories feel real and be local no matter where they are produced or shown and the importance of that localized content in driving audience engagement where the most value can be realized. Understanding the regions globally brings tremendous value in providing solutions and versions for every market, device and member of the audience.
Historically decisions have been driven by budget; and as we all know, studio/production management have been attentive to production efficiencies, aggressively managing budgets rather than increasing budgets.
According to McLennan, the localization and optimization component of the production process for delivery has become critical in driving viewership engagement and accusation of content wherever one is around the world and the need to have a clear understanding on where, why and how tomorrow's projects can benefit with accurate localization is key.
"I believe there will be a lot of discussions in this area at IBC," McLennan said. "The technical aspects to create efficiencies are very much a part of this discussion too."
Natural – More and more people like to just relax at home and watch a show that is fun and interesting. They're much less interested in where it was written, created, produced, posted. A good story is simply a good story.
It will be nice when you can sit down at home (or even go to the movie if you want) and really enjoy an interesting global story whether it's French, Italian, German, South Korean, Aussie, Kiwi, African, Indian, Brazilian, whatever/wherever and understand the storyline in your language and really feel/understand/identify with the actors and the plot.
Last year, the global content industry was valued at a little less than $77B and you have to wonder how much it would increase once we break free of country boundaries and enhanced language barriers.
No, it won't be utopian because content creators/distributors still have to accept the brutal fact that there is more than just the individual viewer(s) involved.
Culturalization also plays an important role in whether the film/show might need to be edited or scenes removed because of various countries societal, legal, religious or cultural norms.
Culturization – Even if a film or show is a chart buster in many countries around the world there can be cultural “adjustments” that are needed if you want to show it in certain countries. You can scream censorship, but many countries have their rules and guidelines for what their citizens see.
Some global countries have challenges for certain content to be shown that can include political sensitivities or concern for their national security.
Censorship on new levels has also become key and sensitive in addressing diversity scenes and characters, often being banned. That can have an impact for the storytellers and needs to be clearly managed and respected. This is an area where AI at this time has challenges in being efficient.
Every country, region and many audience segments have their acceptability rules and guidelines but the path to getting your content in front of audiences is easier when language doesn't get in the way.
There are a lot of discussions –– pro and con –– on how generative AI might impact the industry's creative work and output.
However, when it comes to subbing/dubbing to quickly, easily, economically and effectively localize films/shows, most tend to agree that it could prove to be a valuable tool for bringing great content to people everywhere.
After all, Liu Peiqiaug was right when he said in The Wandering Earth II, "Human beings respect history, but despise the future."
We also agree with him when he added, "I believe that human courage can transcend every history, present and future," especially creatives who want to/need to share their stories locally and globally.
Andy Marken – firstname.lastname@example.org – is an author of more than 700 articles on management, marketing, communications, industry trends in media & entertainment, consumer electronics, software and applications. An internationally recognized marketing/communications consultant with a broad range of technical and industry expertise, especially in storage; storage management and film/video production fields; he has an extended range of relationships with business, industry trade press, online media and industry analysts/consultants.