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Is Translation Technology the “Wonder Weapon” in the Streaming Wars?


5 min read

Written by


Argos Multilingual

Published on

28 Feb 2020

If you’ve ever groaned at a terrible translation in your favorite TV series, you’ve probably wondered why such a sad situation needs to exist. The good news? It probably doesn’t!

Unless you’ve been cut off from civilization for the past few years, you’re probably aware that we’re in a golden age of streaming video content. New players are popping up to challenge established industry leaders and household names like Netflix, Hulu, HBO Go, and Amazon Prime Video on what seems like an almost daily basis – Apple has built its own streaming service, AT&T’s WarnerMedia streaming service is rolling out as you read this, and niche-oriented streaming services like the Criterion Channel, Crunchyroll, and Shudder are in development. With all the competition, the services themselves are struggling to identify ways of standing out in the crowd – and as it happens, translation quality is one of the easiest and most cost-effective ways of doing so.

Why it matters

In a globalized world, one factor that helps customers decide which streaming service is right for them is whether they can understand a platform’s content with the help of subtitles. Unfortunately, streaming platforms are increasingly subcontracting work to unskilled (and cheap) contractors, meaning that profitability and speed often come at the expense of attention to detail. In order to meet demanding deadlines, important processes like the adaptation of wordplay or cultural references in the source language, image and word synchronization, and content and format editing get neglected. Misinterpretations, shortcuts, syntax errors, and butchered expressions have multiplied, and streaming platforms are routinely mocked for their translation failures on social networks around the world.

The Herald of the Gods?

Different platforms have found different ways of dealing with these issues. Netflix, for example, launched the Hermes program to recruit translators and pay them by the minute for their work. However, one year after Hermes launched, Netflix shuttered it, announcing that “we have reached our capacity for each one of the language tests due to the rapid popularity and response from applicants all over the world.” To put it another way, Netflix simply concluded that testing, training, and onboarding thousands of new translators would be tasks easier left to the multiple translation and localization vendors that they partner with.  

The way of the future

Technology may hold the answer to the conundrum faced by streaming platforms, in the form of neural machine translation (NMT) technology and translation memory (TM) databases. Traditionally, subtitling has fallen outside the scope of translation memory packages, as it was generally thought to be too creative a process to benefit from the features that such technology offers. However, recent advances in technology allow machine translation engines to train themselves using a trial and error process that’s similar to the way a human brain works, improving translation quality and producing a more “human-like” output.
The technology is still a long way from completely replacing humans, but at Argos Multilingual we’re already building an environment where professional translators use NMT and TM databases on a daily basis to complete projects faster and add an extra layer of protection against errors. Everything we’re working on is aimed at increasing productivity, reducing time-to-market, lowering costs, and improving consistency – outcomes that should bring a smile to the face of any streaming service that’s desperate to get high-quality content ready for viewers.

To learn more about what we can do and where we’re going, get in touch with us.

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