Zoo Digital’s Stuart Green on Future-Proofing Media Localization

ZOO Digital CEO presentation at SlatorCon Remote

Media localization was the first order of the day at SlatorCon Remote, where Stuart Green, CEO of UK-based media localizer Zoo Digital delivered the keynote address.

Green took the stage to discuss “The Next Evolution of Media Localization: the Workforce, Technology, and Facilities of the Future.” He delivered his vision for future-proofing media localization from the shifts that are unfolding in this growing area of the language industry.

Increasing volumes of original content and the rise in popularity of non-English content are two particular facets of this growth that the CEO singled out as creating challenges for localization providers.

Talent is a big one. Green said demand for talent is outstripping supply for some services and languages while “the time to market for new content is getting shorter and shorter” and “all languages are expected to be available at once.” 

Quality expectations are another. Green pointed out that localized assets must be delivered “to a standard that is comparable with the original programming” and are now considered “primary assets […] not optional things you can think about after the fact as was once the case.”

Talent and Technology 

In the case of dubbing — which is one of the primary services provided by Zoo — the challenge of going faster and doing better is tough. It is only heightened by the need for diversity in the talent pool to reflect the diversity of content. 

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Green outlined a number of ways to future-proof global talent and shared details of one of Zoo’s training initiatives, Zoo Academy, which is designed to enable participants to layer real-world experience on top of training. The academy’s first course on adapting dialog for dubbing was produced in partnership with experts from academia and industry, and has seen a lot of interest from translators who want to move into media, Green said.

This talent is (or should be) supported by technology. However, Green observed that current dubbing tech “worked really well when dubbing volumes were relatively low, when dubbing was predominantly done on big budget titles, and when original content was predominantly in English.” 

MT Doesn’t Work Terribly Well

Moreover, machine translation (MT) systems are unable to meet the creative requirements of media. According to Green, “it doesn’t work terribly well in this area because [MT] is designed to produce, in the main, literal translations of original materials. And […], that’s not really what media localization is all about.”

Green sees other areas of technology as being able to assist in media production, such as machine learning and AI, with which Zoo aims to “provide assistance to allow a more productive use of time by many of the operators in our ecosystem.” For example, he said, “increasing the chance that a translator will get their work right the first time.”

In addition to talent and technology, studios and facilities will need to evolve to meet the challenges of today’s industry. Green said that although the need for dubbing theatrical content hasn’t changed (and is continuing to grow), “the greatest growth is in content associated with lower-budget titles.”

Because of this, the industry can no longer rely solely on the large, high-end recording studios that are “fantastic for producing theatrical type content.” Rather, dubbing providers must begin using much smaller, more scalable recording environments designed to scale up based on client need and market demand.

Zoo was one of the first (pre-pandemic) pioneers of remote dubbing, which removes the need for traditional dubbing studios. The company also maintains partnerships with smaller in-territory dubbing studios and has expanded internationally via partnerships and acquisitions in India, Southeast Asia, and the Middle East.

Green said their model is geared toward enabling distributed working in a secure and controlled environment that makes “better utilization of real estate” and allows content to be produced in a more cost-effective manner.

Q&A

Green fielded a number of questions from the audience, the first of which was related to the use of synthetic voices in media localization. Green said he sees an opportunity for the technology to be used in certain areas (for example to free up talent for priority projects), but synthetic voices will never replace voice actors.

One audience member asked whether Green expects a long-lasting shift to remote dubbing now that studios have reopened after pandemic-related lockdowns. Green said customers have now become “socialized” to remote dubbing as a result of the pandemic and that it “has to be part of the mix for dealing with the demand and scalability that’s needed within the industry.”

Asked about the dynamics of demand, Green said, “What is driving growth is new original content production,” concluding that there is a “huge global appetite for fantastic content that needs to be made available to audiences in a way they can enjoy.”