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The growth and evolution of audio and video localization


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Xavier Marchand photoThe increase in demand for localization of multimedia content is nothing new to most translation providers, but these past few years, in addition to an increase in volume, we have also seen a diversification of the content, from mostly voice over for phone prompts, e-learning, and corporate videos, to web based Flash marketing animations, streaming web videos, multilingual green screen production, internal webinars, software tutorials and much more. This presents new opportunities but also challenges for localization companies who strive to become the all in one solution all buyers are looking for.

The Growth and Evolution of Audio and Video Localization

As a whole, professionally produced and distributed online video content increased 24% in 2008, and the driving forces that have combined and led to a development of multimedia content in localization are not weakening:

  • A dramatic decrease in the costs of video production, and to a lesser extent, of audio production. The transition from analog to digital video has made equipment and storage less expensive, and production and editing easier and faster.
  • Distribution has also become easier and cheaper, thanks to an increase in bandwidth availability, enabling distribution of audio and video simultaneously to a large number of users over the Internet or corporate networks
  • As a whole, corporate clients of LSPs are reaching more markets and need more content localized - this trend for translation as a whole is amplified in multimedia specifically.

ClientSide News Magazine pictureBoth in marketing communications and in technical communications, clients understand how multimedia content enhances the impact of their message. Adding an audio piece to a website, or a video to an e-learning course, increases the attention span, allowing to get a message across faster, while making a longer lasting impression on the viewer.

This market shift is not new, and most large size LSPs have made some form of transition to audio in the past few years. Driven mainly by the demand for foreign language recordings of prompts and e-learning, they have organized somewhat of a vendor base, and have sometimes set up basic internal recordings studios to record this audio-only content. Small and medium LSPs, on the other hand, have often been slower to adapt as requests for audio/video were more sporadic: apart from a few companies that happened to have one client with a regular need, or to be on a specific niche market, most have dealt with their one off requests with ad-hoc solutions, starting with searching for a local studio that offered some foreign talent and basic video capabilities.

But the real shift today is not the overall increasing volume of audio, it’s the more complex and constantly evolving nature of requests and projects, that is creating new challenges for both small and large LSPs, and forcing them to review their model - Interestingly, even the ones that have built in-house studios have often had mixed results (some even walking away from that solution), and only handle a part of their audio business themselves, relying on external studios for many languages and more advanced video work.

1. Transition from audio to video: e-learning content was originally based on audio narration with still images and description of the characters. Today, e-learning developers are getting more effective at reaching their audience with role-playing videos, which in turn need to be localized. This implies using video equipped facilities for recording, more experienced talent, and knowledge of lip-synch and UN style voice over techniques.

2. New tools and delivery formats: Multilingual DVDs and compressed, streaming ready videos are now the main distribution formats. Both of these typically include animated graphics, and multiple subtitling and audio streams.

LSPs of all sizes are faced with a new challenge: adapting to the technological evolution in order to acquire new clients but also to retain existing clients who are moving to more advanced multimedia formats for their corporate communications. If they cannot handle part of the localization, even old clients will eventually turn to vendors who offer them turnkey solutions.

Trying to Stay Efficient and Profitable in a Non Core Business

In localization, every buyer wants an all-in-one solution, and every MLV strives to offer just that. Nevertheless, offering both solid and profitable audio and video services often turns out to be difficult.

The numbers are still small: only in a few focused companies is audio more than several percentage points of total sales. A sales person might run into requests on a somehow regular basis, but a project manager could barely have a few projects a year, if any. This means the processes take time to develop, and the knowhow is slow to acquire and spread across the organization.

Streamlining project management has become a key element to success for many LSPs, but audio and video projects do not fit the mold:

  • A/V pricing is structured differently from translation pricing, and can usually not be handled directly by project managers.
  • Physical assets such as DVDs or tapes are common, and digital assets are too large for the usual communication channels.
  • Project management tools are not ready for multimedia projects
  • Timeline planning is less scientific, and difficult to standardize
  • Vendor databases need adjustments (for languages, pricing, capacity…)

Communication with clients can be painful. Both during the sales process and during the course of a project, individuals from the localization company often find themselves outside their comfort zones. Gathering the correct information from the clients can be time consuming, and answering their questions and requests often requires going back and forth between them and the vendor.

Overall, many localization companies are struggling to find a model that is profitable, while at the same time flexible enough to cope with the increasing amount, diversity, and complexity of video localization projects. Closure rates on multimedia estimates are often low, and project management costs are often high. This need not be the case.

Partnering to Leverage the Vendor’s Knowhow

Multimedia will never be a core business for localization companies, and it will not be a direct and significant source of profit in itself. It’s a value added service that will help keep existing clients, acquire new ones, and most of all, help bring translation business.

To manage these non core projects, LSPs need to work with vendors, that have the facilities, the equipment, the talent base, and the knowhow - but vendor management culture in the localization industry is basically that of working with freelancers: it is a very transactional relationship. The vendors are there to get the work done once the deal has been closed. This approach is not the most effective when dealing with audio and video.

In A/V, right from the sales stage, the vendor brings an expertise that can help identify the opportunities, better understand and respond to the client’s needs, offer more creative and appropriate options, and build client confidence by lending credibility to the LSP’s service offering.

Subsequently, during the course of a project, direct vendor involvement can avoid misunderstandings, alleviate project management, and help make a better overall impression on the client.

Adopting a partner approach with your vendor will make you A/V ready as the demand continues to increase and diversify. It will also raise some new questions:

What is an adequate and market-ready markup policy on the audio part of the business? How to relate it to the actual amount of project management involved. How it might not take fixed costs into consideration since these fixed costs will not increase from more audio business.

What is an adequate incentive structure for sales team when selling audio with a low project management / low gross margin policy?

What kinds of multimedia projects really make sense from an LSP perspective? Audio for a large e-learning project, involving considerable translation and engineering, and few A/V complications, seems to make sense. But how about a 2-minute marketing video with three voices and animated graphics? It could be argued that the risk of a loss due to a mistake while managing this unusual project outweighs the small potential profits from such a small translation.

Handle Multimedia While Focusing on the Core Business

The driving forces behind the growth of multimedia in localization are here to last. LSPs need to embrace this evolution while staying focused on their core business. A/V means different assets, different resources, different workflows, and different timelines: most of this does not fit within the ever more streamlined process of localization project management.

In order to become the turnkey solution the clients want, LSPs need to turn away from the do-it-yourself solution, and come up with a business model where they leverage the knowhow of a solid video localization partner, in order to support their sales force, alleviate their project management, thus preserving their margins, and bringing a real added value to both existing and new clients.

Author

As the COO of JBI Studios since 2006, Xavier Marchand has unrivaled experience in the niche market of A/V localization. He has hosted many webinars and training sessions on the production of foreign language audio and video content, and is a frequent speaker at Localization Events such as Localization World or ALC.

Xavier holds a BA from Ecole Polytechnique in Paris, a MA from Ecole des Ponts et Chaussees in Paris, and a MA from University of Tokyo. He is fluent in French, English and Japanese. He currently resides in Los Angeles with his wife and child.

Located in Los Angeles, JBI Studios is a leading provider of multimedia localization services for audio, video, and e-learning content. Services range from straight audio to video dubbing and subtitling.




Published - July 2009




ClientSide News Magazine - www.clientsidenews.com







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