Should localization be the next advertising asset class?
The challenges facing the localization industry are myriad and well documented. The seemingly insatiable demand for global content combined with a lack of funding, talent shortages and tight turnarounds has the industry scrambling to find possible solutions using everything from synthetic voices to AI workflows.
While the issues are complex, the argument could be made that most of them stem from a lack of funding. The fact is that, despite the massive amount of money spent producing original programming, very little of this budget is invested into reversioning content for international audiences. If more money was available for localization, the industry would attract more talent, be able to invest in technical development and support more suppliers. But where should this additional finance come from?
Our recent work with social initiative, Turn On The Subtitles, has led us to wonder whether it’s time to introduce a new advertising asset class for international programming.
According to research by the National Literacy Trust, if you leave school with low literacy levels you are three times more likely to be incarcerated, three times more likely to be hospitalised and three times more likely to die young. But simply turning on the subtitles when children are watching TV can double the chances of them becoming proficient readers. Turning on subtitles on the content an average child watches over the course of the year would result in them reading the same number of words as all of the Harry Potter, Narnia and Lord of the Rings books, as well as everything that Roald Dahl has ever written. This is the basis of the Turn on the Subtitles initiative launched in 2021.
And TOTS has already been enormously successful. Thanks to the tireless work of their team, partners and ambassadors, Turn On The Subtitles has already impacted 4.5 million children, making it the world’s biggest literacy project. But there are 1.5 billion children across the world that could be benefitting from this initiative.
Aiming for global impact
While TOTS’ previous strategy has been to lobby for changes in legislation and harness public support to convince broadcasters to turn on subtitles by default, following this approach on a global scale would simply take too long. In addition, not all children’s content is produced with subtitles and many public broadcasters, especially those in developing countries where literacy rates are lowest, don’t have the resources to cover the (albeit relatively small) costs involved in playing out subtitled content. With the majority of the world’s children still watching linear TV, paid for by advertising, it quickly became apparent that the only way to solve these challenges was with a commercially driven solution.
Caterpillar Captions is the new social enterprise born from TOTS to answer the questions: how do we reach the other one billion children that could benefit from turning on the subtitles, and how do we fund this initiative? The proposed solution: to bring broadcasters and businesses together by providing broadcasters with high-quality subtitled content, sponsored by pre-vetted and appropriate brands. But can commercial and social goals co-exist without compromise? Will sponsors see a return on investment and how will audiences react to advertising messages appearing on children’s programming? These and other questions could only be answered by conducting a comprehensive pilot.
Assembling the team
The first step was to find a sponsor. Caterpillar Captions approached and secured the support of Hooked on Phonics – a brand looking for ways to raise awareness with families. Next, they approached and secured the co-operation of Akili TV Network in Kenya to pilot the broadcast. Finally, they needed a partner that could deliver ‘literacy grade’ subtitles that also reflected the sponsor’s brand. Caterpillar Captions turned to the media and entertainment industry’s preferred language services provider and TOTS supporter, Take 1 to help them deliver this important proof of concept.
Creating the content
To maximise the educational impact delivered, a mixture of local and international edutainment and educational programming was chosen for the trial broadcast – from Bob the Builder’s positive attitude and problem-solving skills, to N*GEN’s vibrant and charismatic teachers delivering captivating Science lessons, and the animated antics of the Ubongo Kids as they put their math, science, and tech skills to the test.
Drawing on their experience in subtitling content for international broadcasters, streaming platforms and social networks, the Take 1 team created subtitles that reinforced the sponsors’ brand without compromising the educational integrity. Word perfect transcriptions were generated from scratch, fonts were chosen to support reading for both dyslexic and non-dyslexic readers and the effect of colours on legibility was carefully considered. Finally, subtitle placement was optimised to support each programme’s content and ensure that vital on-screen visuals were reinforced and not masked by the subtitles. Rather than supplying the subtitles information as a small sidecar file – which is the standard procedure for most broadcast deliverables – the Take 1 team provided burnt-in subtitles within the high-resolution master programme to reduce the technical and logistical impact on Akili Kids’ broadcast workflow.
The subtitled programmes were broadcast for the month of December 2021 and received overwhelmingly positive feedback from both viewers and sponsors.
This project has the potential to deliver massive social impact across the world. The work done by Caterpillar Captions, Take 1 and Akili TV Network has provided a simple mechanic whereby any broadcaster, anywhere in the world can educate all the children that watch their programming – at absolutely no cost. Now nothing stands in the way of the global impact of turning on the subtitles.
Applying the TOTS approach to localization
Funding localization through advertising could provide the same benefits as sponsoring subtitles for literacy. The additional revenue provided by brands would ensure that translations, captions and overdubs could be produced to the highest standards without creating additional production or broadcasting costs. And brands looking for ways to reach targeted audiences on platforms where traditional ad breaks are becoming obsolete could reach targeted audiences as part of the programme content. In addition, this approach could open up new markets and increase the range of languages and territories that content is localized for.
Whether this is a truly viable solution to all our localization challenges is debatable – and that’s exactly the point. The way we distribute and consume content today was unimaginable just a few short years ago. It’s only by exploring previously unthinkable options that we move the industry forward – even if that means seriously considering the creation of localization as a new advertising asset class