In a world that’s increasingly inter-connected on every level from work to entertainment, subtitles or “timed-text services” have become an indispensable and invaluable commodity. Following recent government legislation enforcing broadcasters to deliver subtitling services to linear TV, OTT, and online channels, the pressure is on to migrate to time-efficient, cost-effective timed-text technologies.
The digital age of livestreaming, YouTube and other OTT platforms is placing increasing demand for immediate timed-text services to be delivered with high levels of speed and accuracy, combined with cultural and lingual competence to ensure clear communication gets conveyed.
Recent research confirms that many people now view video footage without sound, whether on phones, laptops, iPads, or other screens. The audience viewing it this way is increasing at a rapid rate, outnumbering traditional television viewers. This trend is creating an even greater demand for subtitling, especially for younger generations where subtitles can powerfully serve to bridge gaps in communities.
Subtitling has been a major factor in accelerating and generating the sharing of ideas across the globe at a pace never quite seen before. It can be compared to the irreversible impact early writing and the printing revolution had on shaping events. During the 1970s, subtitling technology went through diversification and improvements in both preparation and emission. Technology is now beginning to have a positive impact in transforming traditional television subtitling for the better.
With many subtitling platforms around, it’s crucial solutions meet specific needs within budget. Subtitling is evolving at a rapid rate and quickly adapted to HD and other formats. There are also ongoing requirements for improved subtitle presentation, as well as the introduction of file-based production workflows, including the inescapable convergence with web and online data. Subtitles are effectively timed-text metadata transcripts with metatools. They complement many environments by transmitting information, descriptions, translations and even emotion.
A major benefit of subtitling ensures that the original material is still accessible to viewers and provides a more authentic experience than dubbing or lip-synching would. Language transfer methods using subtitles have become much easier to read too, with many channels now using subtitling for all foreign material. Rolling text performs a useful function in news broadcasts, making it easier to follow with sound often muted in public places. Reliable and accurate timed-text used online can also help power searches, target advertising, increase search traffic, page views, search rank and engagement and therefore increase awareness and attract new business.
The advantages are practically limitless. Subtitles not only play an instrumental role in broadcasting but can be a crucial life-changing factor in many other sectors too. They can be used for improving speech recognition and literacy, aiding communication, providing language learning support, help with hearing impairment, live remote captioning and much more.
It’s also vital that people with impairments can fully engage with television for social, cultural, and family inclusion. About 40 percent of UK viewers watch TV on-demand, over the internet for example, although less than 30 percent are people with hearing difficulties. More than two thirds of on-demand TV providers do not provide any ‘access services’ – either subtitles, or audio description. Broadcasters clearly need to keep up. Social media penetration is an influential driver for the industry and the most “unchartered territory” regarding timed-text services. It’s a brave new world of possibilities and will greatly define whole new segments in production and methods of consumption.
Live events form another niche where timed-text services show great potential. In the future it will grow to a standalone industry due to the particularities and specific challenges it represents. An emerging market for which we already have planned ahead for. Quality is key, and broadcasters need to dramatically improve the accessibility of catch-up and on-demand services. The consensus is that quality of subtitles generally needs to improve overall, and pre-recorded programs should have pre-recorded subtitles. The live technology causes delays and inaccuracies. Once viewers get a little more educated about what quality timed-text servicing really is, it will make a difference. Progress has been made in theatres, concerts, churches, conferences, festivals, exhibitions, and universities in reaching live audiences through loop technology and subtitling. Theatres and home cinema are great consumers of subtitling, with 3D, VR, AR becoming more popular.
London’s National Theatre experimented with “floating subtitles” by testing mixed-reality glasses. With operas mainly presented in romance languages, subtitling has made them more accessible. Our latest project with Vienna’s State Opera House brought fans from several continents together to enjoy the show in their own language. Respecting linguistic particularities is essential and being local is important for quality localization. The battlefield where localization and AI meet is also a topic arising on the agenda. With Brexit on the horizon, attitudes of cultural exchange might alter within the European context. How audiences approach television viewing and if expectations change, remains to be seen.
Research shows 50 percent of viewers in Europe still prefer subtitles in foreign programmes and films. In my experience, the main challenge concerning the adoption of subtitling advancements is not technological or cultural, but in the mindset of today’s broadcasters. Most broadcasters still live with the idea that subtitles are an element of content that “magically appears.” Many broadcasters need to get informed about the intricate painstaking process behind the scenes. This includes dedicated work on lengthy and demanding processes such as editing, quality control procedures and endless deliveries of accurate timed-text services.
On the post production side, most editing software contains very basic subtitling functions, not to mention how fundamentally inefficient it is for an editor to take on the subtitling role as well. It’s ideal to have a standalone subtitling system that specializes in proficiently completing the process and is a great time saver. Like everything in broadcasting, unforgiving tight deadlines, multiple versioning and last-minute corrections also govern timed-texts. This requires intuitive, automated and fast handling of complex assignments.
For example, scene tracking or “on the fly” format conversions, are just a couple of features we introduced lately to help our customers face those types of challenges. There appears to be widespread ignorance among many broadcasters concerning the various technical formats and standards. Many professionals are missing potential opportunities that subtitling can bring. This is the first hurdle that needs to be overcome. Once broadcasters start to understand the benefits that subtitling in all its forms can bring to their audience, and perceive it is an asset that adds value to their service, then a new chapter will open for timed-text services in the industry. A unified product environment that can generate as many correctional tools as possible in one single platform is our exciting offering. This enables subtitle artists, ranging from enthusiasts to professionals, to accomplish tasks quickly and efficiently.
Subtitling software should be considered by broadcasters as a wider investment as it doesn’t have to be restricted to subtitling functions alone. Many of the technological breakthroughs in subtitling are down to innovative modules that that now support universal subtitle format transcoding and realtime live content.
Subtitling software can also be multi-purpose and used to secure systems. Hybrid solutions that combine comprehensive business processing and management systems with subtitling software brings the best of both worlds. They can perform all text related tasks, such as translating, spotting, transcoding, and QC, both live and automated, while also being able to manage complex processes simultaneously. These layers work together with Cloud and desktop applications. Expedient technologies get defined by the people that use them. Proactive developers incorporate customer-driven development and understand how fundamental it is that software is fit for integration in collaborative systems within broadcast workflows. It should support all media, from local files, streaming, custom-protected content for multipurpose text services, graphics for television, cinema, web, along with customisable UIs and more. Broadcasters have a uniquely responsible position to communicate “en masse”.
Embracing subtitling technology, can expand their influence for good to improve our world. Subtitlers can visit the NEXTclub (https://subtitlenext.com/club), a growing community sharing tips and tricks, where members can contribute to forums and have access to key industry insights.
Alexander Stoyanov is a subtitling professional as well as sales director and managing partner of PBT EU (www.pbteu.com), which develops and provides performance-leading solutions and customisable engineering system integration to empower content providers.