Media Localizer Iyuno-SDI Valued at USD 1.2 Billion in IMM Investment

IYUNO-SDI Investment for Dubbing and Subtitling by IMM

Iyuno-SDI has rapidly risen to become the largest media localization provider globally. The company’s path to the top involved acquiring two major rivals in relatively quick succession — first BTI Studios, and then SDI Media, whose name was preserved in the company’s 2021 rebrand.

Now, in its latest round of investment, Iyuno-SDI was valued at a hefty USD 1.2bn. The transaction, which was announced on January 28, 2022, places the media localization giant among the ranks of the most valuable translation and localization service providers in the world.

Figures for Iyuno and SDI, when they were still separate entities, put revenues for the combined company at an estimated USD 400m in 2020. Meanwhile, as 2021 revenue figures for Iyuno-SDI are pending, Chris Carey, EVP Marketing and Corporate Development, Iyuno-SDI Group, told Slator the company’s growth in 2021 was in the double digits, with the trend set to continue into 2022.

Korean investment firm IMM Investments Corp. provided the financing and will take up a seat on the Iyuno-SDI board. Although the specific total and the percentage share acquired by IMM were undisclosed, Carey told Slator that the investment amount can be considered significant.

IMM was founded in 1999 and has USD 4.7bn in assets under management across investments in Japan, China, Vietnam, and the US. Carey said that IMM, along with Iyuno-SDI’s existing institutional investors, are now significant minority investors. Iyuno-SDI Group CEO, David Lee, is also a significant minority shareholder.

A recap on the company’s growth story: Iyuno (as it was originally known) was founded in 2002 by Lee and was bootstrapped until 2018, when it secured USD 23.5m from SoftBank Ventures Asia, the venture capital arm of SoftBank Group.

Iyuno’s merger with major rival BTI Studios followed in 2019, and the company inherited BTI’s investors — Swedish private equity firms Altor and Shamrock — together with BTI’s sizable client book and revenues.

Another, even bigger deal took place in March 2021, when Iyuno acquired its largest rival, SDI Media, to become the leading pure-play media localization provider by revenue. Weeks after the transformative deal, Iyuno-SDI announced that it had secured a USD 160m investment from SoftBank Vision Fund 2.

Demand, Capacity, Talent 

With additional firepower after the IMM investment, Iyuno-SDI now plans to focus on a number of strategic initiatives in 2022. Carey said this includes investments in new studios and facility upgrades to build capacity, as well as talent development, training, and education, including the launch of Iyuno-SDI University.

Addressing talent and capacity shortage has become a key focus for many stakeholders in the media localization industry. One factor that adds to the complexity of the challenge is the increase in demand for subtitling and dubbing in new language pairs — including into English — as non-English original productions are on the rise and customers are localizing their content into more languages than ever before.

Carey explained, “English into every other language is really well known, but producing German into Korean or Mandarin content, or dealing with content produced in Korea and localized into dozens of other languages is a newer development.”

He added, “We are seeing a significant increase in non-English original production, which is leading to really interesting top-line growth.”

At the top of the media localization funnel, Carey confirmed that new productions have resumed after pandemic-related global lockdowns. “The pipeline out of Hollywood and elsewhere is pretty close to back to normal — it’s a new normal with new protocols,” he said, adding that “productivity and output are growing and we’re expecting a growth year on the production side.”

Creative Pinnacle: Film and TV

As streaming platforms ramp up their presence in new territories, they are adding more and more languages to their order lists. Carey observed, “They are doing more subtitling and dubbing languages than they have done in the past. They are now doing 12, 18, 30, or more dubbing languages, and 40–50 subtitling languages, more as a rule rather than the exception.”

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For example, “Global leader Netflix released some pretty staggering numbers recently,” Carey said, referring to the datapoints Netflix put out in mid-January that revealed the scale of the streaming giant’s subtitling and dubbing activities in 2021. The growth trend is happening across the media localization buyer landscape as, he pointed out, “Disney+ and others continue to grow like wildfire.”

Other Iyuno-SDI strategic initiatives will involve further technical development and the careful application of machine learning (ML) and AI as well as the infrastructure and workflow-automation layer supported by these technologies. The company also plans to make strategic investments, such as the Ortana deal and the SDI Media acquisition in 2021.

Carey elaborated on these plans, explaining that technical innovation and strategic acquisitions will facilitate Iyuno-SDI’s likely expansion into adjacent markets: “It’s natural to think that we will expand into adjacent markets, such as subtitling and dubbing for the enterprise and corporate sectors and services for live experiences (e.g., broadcast).”

As for the role of technology in expanding Iyuno-SDI’s addressable market, Carey noted how film and TV form “the creative pinnacle.”

“We can take learnings from applying AI and ML to Film and TV to build services as well as self-serve and SaaS solutions for other markets,” Carey said.