In France, Netflix has a catalogue of over 5,600 films and series. This corresponds on average to the number of film releases in French cinemas in 2020. This explosion of video-on-demand services reflects the new mode of consumption, “everything, right away”. But to satisfy the 208 million subscribers worldwide, films and series must be subtitled. Translators are therefore increasingly called upon by this style of platform.
How can platforms release so many films and series in so many languages?
First of all, it is the law in France that defines the number and chronology of releases of films and series; it is called the Chronologie des Médias and it regulates the catalogues after the cinema release. This is why you have to wait 36 months before you can access films on SVoD services (such as Netflix, Amazon, etc.), or 6 to 8 months on pay-TV services such as Canal+ or OCS.
Platforms such as Netflix then produce their own films and series so that they are directly online. This is where the translators come in.
Netflix, Amazon Prime, Disney+ are constantly looking for translators to ensure their releases. They call on translators from all over the world in order to offer the widest possible range of languages. It is now very easy to see a film or series in French with Japanese subtitles, such as the series Lupin, which has been a great success abroad and has been subtitled in many language combinations.
A tool to become an official translator
The American platform Netflix, for example, has to provide subtitles in around 20 languages. In 2017, it therefore launched its own translation recruitment platform “Hermes” with the aim of increasing its subtitling quality and checking that the translators who offer to work on the subtitles of a content have a perfect command of all the subtleties of the original language. Translators are tested on this platform before being selected. A computer selects them by means of algorithms; the quality of their translation is no longer judged by a person, but by an algorithm!
Once selected, translators are paid by the minute, up to a maximum of 25 dollars. This is a matter of debate in the translation world, as some translators are underpaid, depending on the dialogues they translate.
Moreover, this system competes with translation agencies specialising in subtitling. Some people talk about the uberisation of subtitling. This alters the translator’s profession; they have to work more and more on an increasingly tight deadline and no longer have time for creativity. Moreover, their copyright is not well recognised, as negotiations with these platforms are sometimes tough. Translators are therefore increasingly in demand, but the working conditions are deteriorating.
The quality of subtitles, at the heart of the debate in 2021
The quality of subtitling is increasingly at the centre of criticism. The working conditions of translators, which leave little room for creativity, have resulted in a decline in the quality of subtitling. This was the case in September 2021 with the release of the South Korean series Squid Game. This series was a great success, but its dubbing and subtitles in English were not. Some dialogues were badly transcribed, preventing viewers from understanding certain plots or subtleties of the characters. This would have had a snowball effect on the translation of other languages.
This process puts the profession of translator to the test.
The place of translators in the audiovisual industry
Translators have a very important place in the audiovisual world and this is reflected in the explosion of streaming and VOD platforms.
Viewers are becoming aware of the importance of quality subtitles with all the series being released on these platforms.
But for translators to keep up with the crazy pace of film releases and platforms, their working conditions must not be neglected and the uberisation of the translation profession must be avoided for better quality… but also so that it is a recognised profession.