in Language & Culture, Translation

Whether you’re sheltering in place in Denmark or in Chattanooga, Tennessee, the outrageous new docuseries “Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem and Madness” has likely made its appearance on your Netflix home page over the past couple of weeks. While Netflix has been somewhat close-lipped with viewership data from outside of the United States, it appears that the Tiger King is continuing to maintain the #1 spot on Netflix’s Top 10 Most Popular list not only in the US, where the story originates, but in countries around the world.

So what does it take to take a show like this global? The fact that nations across the world are issuing quarantine orders in response to the covid-19 pandemic has certainly helped raise demand for video streaming, boosting cross-lingual viewership. However, once demand is established, the work of bringing entertainment to people in their native languages becomes a job for translation and localization companies capable of adapting culturally specific narratives for broader audiences.

Multimedia translation is in high demand everywhere, and a wide spectrum of suppliers has risen to meet that demand. In China, for example, crowdsourced translation platforms like Yeeyan and 365 allow freelance and amateur translators to discuss and collaborate on in-demand content originally created in foreign languages. Popular shows often end up on “fan translation” platforms, which set up a peer-review process of translation involving game-like elements that reward translators experience points.

For large-scale streaming services such as Netflix, engaging with professional translation and localization companies is essential to going global. As the foremost streaming service poised to become a “truly global TV network”, Netflix has gained a great deal of close attention from observers in the industry. In recent years, Netflix has experimented with machine translation, as well as contracting translators and translation vendors. The results have gained both positive and negative coverage in the press, indicating the formidable challenges involved in delivering quality, localized content worldwide.

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Another notable success in Netflix’s efforts to reach global viewers is the hit series Stranger Things. The second and third seasons of this show broke records for viewership in the first 10 days after being uploaded to the streaming service, while the first season has already caught on in every corner of the globe, from Bhutan to Chad.  Before all of this was possible, bringing the show to global popularity relied on the work of expert translators.

To adapt Stranger Things, Netflix’s localization team needed to devote its attention to detail. This meant finding a local Thai brand equivalent for Eggo waffles (it’s “เอกโก”, by the way), determining a translation of the board game term ‘demagorgon’ that was first introduced to the target country in the 1980s, and choosing recognizable child voice actors to furnish the dubbed versions. It was such choices that helped make a show set in 80s suburban America a global phenomenon.

Tiger King is a quintessentially American documentary about a politically active, gun-toting, backwoods Oklahoma tiger breeder. One can surely imagine the challenges of localizing such a persona’s dialogue. Netflix has already provided subtitles and dubbing for Tiger King in six of the world’s major languages, and it will be interesting to see how far this phenomenon travels in the world.

CSOFT’s global network of native, in-country translators are experienced in the subtle challenges of localizing culturally rich, nuanced content of all forms. Just as much as the precision and accuracy that is critical to forms such as technical writing, our linguists are dedicated to the art of bridging cultural and linguistic realms within and across borders worldwide. As we witness profound shifts in direct consumer demand for quality content, stories like the Tiger King and Stranger Things are indirectly illustrating just how important those qualifications are for our industry.

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