Localization in the Evolving Entertainment Industry

Localization in the Evolving Entertainment Industry
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February 12, 2020
Renato and Michael with Chris Carey
In this episode of Globally Speaking, we chat with Chris Carey, Chief Revenue Officer of Iyuno Media Group, about the evolving media and entertainment industry model and how the advent of streaming services has not only expanded the market, but required multimedia localization to evolve. We also discuss how to set up media localization teams for maximum efficiency, how technology can combat the scarcity of linguistic resources and how we all need to evangelize localization to increase the talent pool.
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Speaker Transcript
Michael I’m Michael Stevens.
Renato And I’m Renato Beninatto.
Michael And today on Globally Speaking, our guest talks about connecting stories with people.
Renato It’s a recurring topic for us here in our podcast because it’s one of the areas in the language services that keeps growing and, at this moment, is expanding all over the world significantly. So, we talk about interesting topics like opportunities and growth.
Michael Right. So, if you’re working at an MLV or an SLV right now, there’s something in this for you. If you’re a translator looking to upgrade, up-level your skills, if you’ve ever watched a piece of streaming content, I think you’ll really enjoy this episode.
Renato Let our guest introduce himself.
Chris I’m Chris Carey. I’m the Chief Revenue Officer of Iyuno Media Group. Our company is involved in the localization services business, and I’ve been with the company just a little under one year, and have had a long career in the post-production and filmed entertainment industry in a number of different roles: in business development, product, technology, engineering, operations and now revenue.
Renato Fantastic. So, Iyuno is a name that is probably not very familiar to many of our listeners, even though they’re probably consumers of what you do on a regular basis. Why don’t you tell us a little bit more about the business of Iyuno?
Chris Sure. Well, Iyuno Media Group is a global service provider in language services. Broadly, that is the dubbing and subtitling business and the various services that sit around dubbing and subtitling: access services, [a] variety of adaptation services as well as some of the media and supply chain fulfillment that goes along with that. Our company—actually, Iyuno Media Group, that company name—has been in existence for well over 15 years and was formed by a founder, David Lee, who still is a part of our management group, based originally in Korea. And the big pieces of our global company now were formed in a recent merger we did with BTI Studios. BTI, reasonably well-known in the LSP sector in Europe; Iyuno, reasonably well-known in the Asia theater as a service provider. The two companies merged to become one of the world’s largest localization services providers. We operate in 30 countries, 35 studios, 40 offices globally, and do language services in over 80 different languages globally.
Renato So, the interesting part is that the founders are Korean and Swedish, but the clients are all Americans, I imagine. Most of them.
Michael It’s because they need help. The Americans need help by other people, clearly.
Chris [Laughs] Well, the Americans always need help. But actually, I would say not so much. Certainly, from a revenue perspective, a large number of the major US-based media and entertainment companies buy services from a company like us, but also, a very significant part of our business is actually helping Korean companies and Chinese companies and Japanese companies and Dutch and German and French companies take their content and tell it in languages other than the original that it was produced in, and then distribute it on a global basis.
Michael So, what I hear from you in saying that is there might be a market for this streaming content. [Laughter] I think there might be some growth there.
Chris You think?
Michael Chris, is there any more room? Everyone is in this: we have Disney, HBO, Amazon, Netflix, all the traditional studios. Like, is it crowded? Do you think it’s still going to continue to expand? Who’s driving it? Like, this is a fascinating space right now.
Chris Yeah, yeah, yeah. Well, you know, I think it’s fascinating, and I mentioned in introducing myself, I’ve actually been in a CTO job and a head of operations and in video streaming and distribution strategies—a variety of different positions throughout my career—and I’m a bit gray-haired, so I’ve had a bit of a long career—and actually, I’ve observed that the media and entertainment business has gone through one major transformation over the last decade or so, and that’s really the internet streaming business, where now, the democratization of content—production to consumer, that connection—it’s no longer gate-kept.

For many, many years, the gatekeepers—the paid television operators and a very small number of platforms—were the way that you as a consumer, no matter what country you were in in the world, understood what you could view.

Now, with internet streaming—ergo, the space you mentioned—everybody’s getting into it. They’re all getting into the phrase ‘OTT’ but really, the internet streaming—direct to consumer from publisher to consumer—the technical supply chain’s been solved for quite some time. Now what we’re finding is the LSP business, which is why I joined this company, and I really believe it was the next strategic imperative, is that we build a real localization service on a global scale so that content can reach consumers no matter what their native language is.
Renato We did a couple of episodes here with Netflix, and one of the effects that we have noticed in the language services space is that all of a sudden, this creates an element of scarcity—which is always good when you’re a provider of a service—an element of scarcity for translators with the skills required to provide this type of service. Because translating text or doing interpretation are very different than subtitling and even dubbing.
Chris Oh yeah.
Renato Our listeners have heard this story multiple times: I actually started 37 years ago in subtitling and dubbing, so I love this area and this topic…
Chris Sure.
Renato …when it was done with typewriters and burned on film. Today, it’s all software, and BTI, I know they had—Iyuno also has—its own technology platform to provide services digitally. Right?
Chris Yes. Yes. Yeah, well, you know, fundamentally, you mentioned, and I think it’s important, is this is still very much a creative process. There is an art and a science to it, and the art can’t be lost. As you know, the linguistic skills of taking an English joke and telling it in French and German and Korean and Chinese, it’s a linguistic skill to know how to tell a joke and to make it work in all of those different language translations.
Renato But it’s hard to make a German word work in another language, but that’s another story.
Chris Or we could say French comedy. But, you know, that’s an artistic process, and that remains at the core of what we do. And we sort of find that really important. But, what can we do technologically to advance the state-of-the-art in platforms, in workflow platforms, in efficiency, and now increasingly, in the actual translation services? How much of that can we have a machine do? And we all know, again, one of those buzzwords is AI and machine learning and what’s happening in that space. And we are very, very, far forward in our advancing of that state-of-the-art as a service provider.

We have a product we call our machine-assisted subtitling product, and that’s where we take a well-trained engine for a particular content type—which can continue to be trained—do the first pass at subtitle translation or a text translation, and then have a human—ergo, machine-assisted—quality-control it, make sure that the references, the metaphors, the puns, the jokes, the colloquialisms are all correctly characterized. So, we see technology being applied to the art form to advance the state-of-the-art.
Renato Yeah. Because like I said, this demand has created a lack of trained human translators to cope with the volumes that are coming. But it has also strained the competitive landscape. Right? We see a lot of activity: BTI and Iyuno merging—first of all, great news of having an Asian player on the top players in our industry; this is a novelty—but we also have challenges: we hear that your top competitors, SDI having trouble with revenues and Deluxe going out of business. So, exciting times in the subtitling and dubbing space for translators.
Chris Yeah, yeah, yeah. Well, so, there’s a couple of things you touched on I’ll clarify, and that’s a shortage of skillset in the localization service from a human resources point of view. That’s true; there is a dearth of assets available. This is where technology helps us, because if I can get the machine to do the first pass, now the skilled human can do, you know, many times the amount of hours of content in a given work week or in a given amount of time that that individual has, so we can produce more volume with the same human resources by allowing machines to assist. So that’s one of the ways we solve for it.

The other way—and this goes to the creative talent community—I’ve talked to many of our customers. I think that the awareness of localization as an art form and as a career is not well understood. And one of the things I personally am on a campaign to do, and ergo, this conversation with you guys and many others I’m having out into the media and into the sector of sort of publicity and making sure folks are understanding, localization’s a great career. And if you’re in school and you’re a young actor or you’re in a language school, why don’t you learn that, hey, the localization business is a wonderful place to go, and it’s not well understood. So, by raising the awareness of this as a sector, we can grow more talent, and we spend time reinvesting in the community, doing workshops with actors, doing workshops with linguistic students to show them that this is a good career. So, those are some of the other things that I think we as a community need to do to raise it up, as it is a fantastic business.
Michael That’s a really good encouragement to listeners who may be young linguists: to go and explore what it means to be doing subtitling, to work in dubbing, and to build that as a skill. It’s a very marketable skill at this time in particular.

We talked about what the linguist could do outside the US or maybe even in the US to sort of level up as far as their skills. You mentioned that the distribution for this content is already in place. What does it mean for the studio that may not be a US-based studio to take advantage of this market opportunity?
Chris Sure. Well, you know, for non-US domestic content producers, they’re recognizing that there is a great deal of opportunity to go to some of the large consumer platforms and say, “Hey, I’ve got a fantastic opportunity.” We’ve all read it in the press: you know what Disney’s doing, what Warner Brothers is doing, what NBC is doing. Of course, Netflix and Amazon and Apple are all big players in the space. So, they’re going to take content, and potentially they’ve got the size, to reach customers globally directly with their own platforms.
Michael And a lot of the traditional players, though, are still looking just at blockbusters, right, for that. They want to make sure it’s one of those things that has global blockbuster appeal.
Chris Correct. Yeah. Yes, however, because those channels will be built and owned and operated [by], and certainly there’s a battlefront against the, you know, those big players, who’s going to win the audience, the subscriber loyalty? How many subscriptions does an average consumer want to have? But the other local distribution platforms, and, you know, here in the US, there’s a number of smaller OTT aggregator retail services that you can subscribe to to find niche product—art product, foreign language product, anime product, all kinds of different things—those opportunities now exist for individual publishers, where they never could’ve gone outside their country. This was the point I was making. A European company broadcaster said, “I’ve got a great library, and I now can actually localize it,“—ergo, why this is such a strategic piece of it. “We never would’ve thought of translating and dubbing into English and Spanish this European, whether it’s French or German, because we never had a channel to get it.”
Michael Yeah.
Chris Now we do. And we can go to those markets and go to these retail aggregators that are local. You can do transactional services, revenue-share services, even ad-sponsored, so that the barrier to entry to get into the local markets is actually lower because of the digital distribution world. And I think it’s an optimistic time for local content producers to get their stories consumed.
Michael One thing I would love to see more of in this space is, with the Matrix movies, you probably remember that series…
Chris Oh yeah.
Michael …they did the anime version where they brought in directors from around the world, and they did shorts based upon the overall concept of the Matrix.
Chris Yeah.
Michael I would love to see collaboration in that manner over Marvel, but done from a China perspective. Like, just mash those things up and spin them around and distribute them everywhere. There’s so much room for creativity there.
Chris Yeah.
Renato I may watch French, German, Brazilian TV series all over. And it’s all available on my computer or on the airplane. I was flying yesterday, and I was watching a French series that I had downloaded on my (laughs) iPad. So, it’s a different way of consuming content, and it’s one where machine translation can help. I can see using automation in documentaries or in technical training videos, which is also another medium that is growing, right?
Chris Yeah. Yeah.
Renato So, do you work mostly on theatrical or also on commercial localization?
Chris No, not at all just theatrical. Yes, certainly plenty of theatrical, but also lots of television, non-theatrical. Honestly, even the metaphor of theatrical is starting to go away. So, a 100-minute very-top-tier-talent piece of entertainment—narrative, scripted entertainment—is being produced and distributed without ever hitting a movie theater…
Renato Yeah, yeah.
Chris …sometimes much to the chagrin of the old academy, you know, staunch sort of ‘the movie theater must be maintained’. I believe the movie theater is a great experience. I love watching movies in a group with a lot of people and laugh together, cry together, feel together. That’s a wonderful experience, but sometimes not practical. And also watching things on my phone in a train drive or a car ride or a plane on my iPad or tablet. All of those mediums are great. So, I think you’re right; it’s a booming time to actually experience content.
Michael Chris, related to the use of machine translation and that hybrid approach where people are still involved, do you still run into some of the same limitations we hear before, on those challenging content types like comedy and those things? That’s the place where people are really adding the most value and the most insight, correct?
Chris Yeah, that’s right. Although, you know, certainly comedy—the more there’s context required for the translation to work, the less effective an untrained engine is.
Michael Okay.
Chris But also, the more effective training can be. So, you know, we have done testing, and if you take a source and a destination language—so, let’s say we’re going from Korean to Japanese—and you then train an engine with a lot of comedy content and you correct it and you correct it and you correct it, you can eventually get to the point where a lot of jokes are now understood by the machine and it knows how to do that translation.
Michael Okay.
Chris But that requires training. So, one of the biggest issues sort of for the next number of years is that—and really, the battlefront of, “Hey, my AI’s better than your AI,“—it’s all about how well trained is it? It really comes down to the brain, now an AI brain. Did you teach it? Did it go to school? Has it got a master’s degree? In which case, it’s probably super smart and can think well.
Michael Which is interesting, because it’s the same methodology that human comedians do when they work on their content. Because Jerry Seinfeld doesn’t have the jokes that he delivers in the stadium when he walks into the club on a Monday night at 2:00 in the morning to practice his game. So, it’s just machines can iterate faster than Jerry Seinfeld can.
Renato And they can do a million Jerry Seinfelds at a time. So, but Chris, you are at the forefront of the client interaction for everyone.
Chris Yeah. Sure.
Renato So, what are clients asking you? What is the conversation on the buyer side? What are the challenges that a media buyer has when it comes to you?
Chris Sure. Well, you know, there is no one customer archetype. There are many, many customer archetypes. And I would say different companies are in different places in what they consider to be their priority. I have some customers who will say, “Chris, I want the best quality.” Of course, everybody wants a good price. Of course. But some will say to me, “I’m willing to pay for quality.” Others will say, “I just want it good enough to get over at the lowest price possible.” Some will say, “I want to have transparency and see every single microscopic component of what you do for me and understand it at a level—”
Renato Give me a dashboard and I’m happy. [Laughs]
Chris And others say, “What’s my price? Here’s my show. These 22 languages in dubbing. These 64 languages in subtitling. And when can you have it done?” And so, I’ve got people that are all the way zoomed out on a, “I just want a supply chain that’s well-managed and give me a good balance of quality, speed, price,“—the triangle, if you will, good, fast and cheap, right? And the right balance. Some will tell me, “I want good, and I’m willing to compromise on fast or cheap.” And of course, you know, the big gorillas say, “Give me all three and squeeze it to the Nth degree.”
Renato [Laughs]
Chris We’re a service provider. And so, it’s all over the map.
Renato So, Chris, how many employees does Iyuno have now with the merger?
Chris We now have about 1,300 employees globally.
Renato Okay. So, if you look at the most common title at Iyuno, what is it?
Chris So, you’ve got linguistics experts in the subtitling world that are doing the translation work or the correction work, as we talked about.
Renato So, you do that in-house? You have in-house staff doing that?
Chris We have some in-house staff as a part of that 1,300. We have a number of those that are in-house, and then we also extend and expand through contract networks, as all of us do, contracted employees. So, you’ve got linguistics. Actors generally are not employees; actors are almost always, you know, cast and then brought in.
Renato Yeah.
Chris But that’s an incredible and it’s a big piece of our—
Renato And that’s for the dubbing part?
Chris Yeah, for dubbing. Then you’ve got recording engineers who are, you know, in many cases, employees. Some are also contractors. So, the engineering side of it, making sure the mic’s set up and the room is set up right. So, you’ve got all the audio experts, recording engineers, mixing engineers, editing people, QC people. You’ve got linguistic skills, script adaptation, subtitle translations…
Renato So, you would say that the core competence, the majority of your employees, from what I hear, are mostly technical people. The people who make the magic happen are the middle of the company that gets the job done.
Chris Yeah.
Renato It’s mostly technical people.
Chris Technical in the broad sense. Technical meaning they’re quite creative. Right? So, mixing engineer, recording engineer, is a very creative job. I guess you’d categorize it as technical. I’d call it both technical and creative.
Renato Yeah. Because the traditional LSP, localization company, will have the middle of the company, the big chunk of the organization, is in project management. Right?
Chris Yeah.
Renato But I think that in a media localization company, as in the gaming—and we didn’t get into the gaming part—is mostly technical-related. The magic that you do is getting this content that is in video format or audio format, transforming it and delivering it in a different language. But, that’s the part that you do mostly in-house. That’s the factory. Let’s put it this way.
Chris Yeah. We try to really focus our energies as an innovation company on how to take those overhead jobs and those project management jobs. And, you know, we’ve got a fantastic platform that makes one project manager do the job of 10. And that’s great, because 10 project managers are wonderful employees and they’re worth every penny and we need them, but I’d rather spend that money on linguistic skills and on creative skills, technical skills, where we can really differentiate our company, and then automate as much as we can and make efficiency drive. So, we like to make sure that we’re spending our labor force and investing our labor force in the creative and technical skills first, and then management layer and project management layer as necessary, of course.
Michael And Chris, are you building out these tools yourselves internally?
Chris It’s entirely built by us. It was actually one of the wonderful things about our two companies coming together. Iyuno had a really long and steep history, from the founder himself starting with the first lines of code in project management and subtitling software. So, all of our subtitling and dubbing project management platform is owned-and-operated source code with an engineering team we built ourselves.
Michael Yeah. That’s a good message for other LSPs who may be listening to this: that if you’re not seeing yourself as a platform company, and that being a core element of your business, the competition is out there in that space, so be careful.
Chris Absolutely. Yeah. It’s a core part of our differentiation.
Renato Is there anything about Iyuno that we haven’t asked you that you wanted to share with us?
Chris Well, you know, the last thing I’d like to say about our company is I really want to leave the audience that’s listening to this with the understanding, the most important thing we see, is that the job we have, the social responsibility we have, to connect content and people, it’s a really important and an inspiring job to have. And companies like ours have to take that very seriously. And we certainly do. And I want to make that message well understood in the marketplace, both in the job marketplace and in our customers. We take that job seriously. We’re connecting stories with people, and it moves them. And at the end of the day, that’s a really important and valuable role to have in the ecosystem of our business.
Renato Thank you so much, Chris. It was great to have you with us.
Michael I think our audience will be connecting with your story, Chris. Thanks.
Chris Thanks very much, guys.

End of conversation

Chris Carey

Chris Carey is the Chief Revenue Officer and Managing Director for Iyuno Media Group. Prior to that, Chris worked in a variety of roles in the media and entertainment industries, including as Head of Business Development and Strategy at Verizon Media, Executive Vice President of Worldwide Technical Operations at Paramount Pictures and Chief Marketing and Technology Officer at Technicolor. He also had a hand in publishing the book Understanding Digital Cinema: A Professional Handbook, about the entire digital film-making process.

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