Plot Twist: Hollywood Strikes May Boost Demand for (Some) Localization

Hollywood Strike Localization

As performers and writers continue their strike in Hollywood, entertainment-adjacent industries — including media-focused localization services providers (LSPs) — have started to feel a ripple effect.

In a mid-July 2023 trading update, UK-based LSP ZOO Digital reported lower-than-expected revenues: Since the strike has held up film and television production, demand for subtitling and dubbing from English into other languages has dipped. 

With work on productions stalled in Hollywood, streaming giant Netflix has turned to local language films and TV series for new-to(-American)-audiences’ content.

Sure enough, subscribers are tuning in. Comparing viewing hours for a seven-week span starting June 1, 2023, to the same period in 2022, Next TV observed a more than 20% increase for foreign-language films and a 30% spike for Netflix’s top non-English TV series.

While Netflix continues to release content originally produced in English for subscribers in the US, that lineup now consists mainly of reality TV, documentaries, and films and series from other Anglophone locations, including the UK, New Zealand, South Africa, and India.

The ongoing Hollywood strike, coupled with the success of non-Hollywood shows such as Squid Game, means Netflix and rival streamers may soon need more help localizing non-English content for English-speaking American audiences. 

Netflix has already started to promote some of those projects on Twitter, including German dystopian sci-fi thriller Paradise; six-episode Korean-language series Mask Girl, premiering August 18, 2023; and French kids’ movie Miraculous: Ladybug and Cat Noir, The Movie — advertised, with its young audience in mind, with dubs instead of subs.

And, perhaps to help boost interest in non-English titles, the company has unveiled Netflix Top 10, which ranks the most-watched series and movies around the world each week.

Improving, and Expanding, Localization Efforts

Of course, more localized content also invites critique from both insiders and observers, from all angles.

Netflix has always done a good job with titles and subtitles, especially when it comes to Kdramas,” Christian Manley began a post on LinkedIn before taking Netflix to task for the English translation of the name of one show, King the Land, calling it “a lesson in how not to write a title.” 

What will it take to get Netflix’s localization efforts up to snuff — and up to speed, as the pace of foreign language releases ramps up? People power, certainly, with a timely emphasis on the role of machine learning and AI in the localization process.  

This work could fall under the purview of one or two of Netflix’s newest openings. Its new AI-focused position on the Machine Learning Platform team has already been panned for an outsize advertised salary of USD 0.9m per year, considered tone-deaf during industry-wide strikes. 

Otherwise, the Applied Machine Learning Specialist for Globalization, whose compensation will fall somewhere between USD 0.15m-0.75m, might take it on. (At the time of writing, more than 1,670 applicants had applied for the position.)

“We are responsible for the translation and cultural adaptation of all aspects of member interaction, including beautiful localized user interfaces, subtitles, and dubbing of award-winning Netflix originals,” the job description for the latter role reads. “We are looking for an Applied Machine Learning Scientist to develop algorithms that power high quality localization at scale.”

The demand is already there, as one subscriber tweeted: “I’m paying the top price for Netflix and I still have to enable subtitles manually when a different language is spoken just to understand what is said. You still haven’t figured out an algorithm to enable auto translate while subtitles are disabled.”