Iyuno-SDI and Disney on Overcoming the Challenges of Localizing at Global Scale

Iyuno-SDI Group President, Mark Howorth, and The Walt Disney Company’s VP of Distribution Operations, Andrew Aherne, traded insights on the complexity of content localization at SlatorCon Remote on June 29, 2022.

Disney’s Aherne recalled the company’s long history of localization, dating as far back as the 1930s when Snow White was localized into seven languages. Through the years, dubbing and subtitling have been key to Disney’s localization success.

According to Aherne, “Disney’s expenditure on content has risen dramatically in the last few years.” He said that in 2021, the company spent some USD 25bn on content creation (as at October 2021). Disney expects the figure to reach USD 33bn in 2022.

He highlighted the huge focus today on local productions that perform well elsewhere. “We’ve been very successful in the Latin American region for quite some time,” Aherne said, citing the example of the Latin American telenovela, Violeta, which “played extremely well in most of Europe and other markets.”

Despite the shrinking share of market for English content versus rocketing demand for other languages (as discussed during the conference), audiences unaccustomed to consuming anything but English productions remain significant for companies like Disney.

“Something relatively new for all of us is English-language dubbing and the quality of that — particularly so for an audience that really isn’t used to watching anything but domestic content in English. I think there are some opportunities and challenges for all of us to deliver international content in a way that really lands and engages a domestic audience,” Aherne said.

From the standpoint of media localization providers, English is often the bridge language and this adds another layer of complexity. According to Iyuno-SDI’s Howorth, “As a vendor, I see some of the challenges of an industry that has been built assuming that almost everything starts in English and then goes into another language.”

He explained, “With subtitling in particular, we now have to start with other languages. For example, if we have to go from Korean to Thai, there are not many people who speak both Korean and Thai. So we go from Korean to English, English to Thai. And that creates new challenges for us.”

Tens of Millions Yearly

Crucial to delivering a localized product is the emergence of the day-and-date release, where a film is released on multiple platforms (e.g., theater, home video) in close succession if not on the exact same day.

“When I first came to this industry,” Howorth recalled, “dubbing typically took three months and subtitling, a month. But now that has moved rapidly toward day-and-date. We love the fact that there are huge volumes, but it’s putting pressure on the supply chain.”

Howorth said creating a more efficient supply chain was one motivation behind the Iyuno-SDI merger, a deal completed in March 2021: “Since the two legacy companies came together, we quadrupled our spending on technology. We spent tens of millions of dollars per year. Not just on building dubbing booths, but technology to satisfy what companies like Disney require.”

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He added, “When I first met Andy, we were talking about how to take one piece of content to 50 languages. Now, we’re talking about how to take one piece of content to 500 distribution points.”

Client requirements are what drove Iyuno-SDI’s huge spend to hammer out a faster, more secure supply chain. “We literally have more than 150 programmers writing code so we can take days out of the process,” the Iyuno-SDI President said.

Of course, the duo also discussed the current media localization talent crunch — a shortage resulting from the trifecta of high demand around non-English content, simultaneous releases in multiple languages, and a talent pool that takes time to be developed.

According to Aherne, “The talent selection piece is just such a key component of what we do.”

Howorth agreed, saying, “It used to be possible to just throw manpower at it. But the scale today is more complex. When you’re translating into 40 languages, there is no magic dubbing button.”