When will subtitles catch up?

This is an example of what I’ve been talking about. A twitter thought leads to a blog post… or two.

When I woke, my guest was watching TV. Part of the show was an interview with a French person. His voice was dubbed. As I know a little and my friend knows all French, it was a pity that we couldn’t hear what they had to say while reading the subtitles if needed.

It seems that dubbing foreign speech has become much more common that subtitles in the last 10 years. This is true of even the most highbrow TV news programmes. In 1995 they would have subtitled non-English speech. Now they hardly ever do.

There are two explanations: that TV producers and news editors think audiences are put off by subtitles, or that subtitling technology hasn’t kept up with the world of simpler post production – compared with dubbing.

I’d like to assume the latter for the moment. What is it about subtitling that makes it more difficult to organise than dubbing. It is that it isn’t too difficult to get a simultaneous translator to translate and speak at the same time, whereas producing well-written and well timed subtitles is hard.

For live TV, there is an interesting solution. Subtitle describers are employed to repeat what people are saying and what sounds can be heard into a speech recognition package, which produces subtitles for those who turn them on using their remote controls. All non-satellite TV channels have subtitles on 97% of all shows, this is how they provide the service.

This points up that editing software should not treat subtitling as an effect that is laid on top of video at some point, or only implemented when making a DVD. Maybe it is time that script, music and sound effect information is associated directly with audio clips so that scratch subtitles track could automatically be generated. Then professional summarisers and designers would clean them up before the production is delivered online, on DVD or broadcast.

A thought leads to a blog post… or two

So the original thought was “With people speaking foreign languages, over the last twenty years the technology of subtitling has fallen behind dubbing. A pity.” – Which is what I posted to Twitter 11 hours ago, before going out and having a great day in London. I didn’t think about it until I got back a short time ago and saw that Matt Davis had written a blog post partially inspired by my tweet.

Matt Davis' Twitter profile picture
His idea is much bigger than mine – maybe leading to a whole new media for a Social Media platform to share and discuss. That’s why you should check it out (Also follow Matt on Twitter if you like or blog his feed).

I then decided to write a post about Twitter and blogs, which meant turning my initial thought into (almost) an idea.

This is how Twitter and blogs can work.

  1. Bryce said:

    It’s really interesting to see how social media is transforming. From personal geocities/tripod/angelfire pages with guestbooks in the 90s (mostly you shouting to the world), to Facebook and Myspace (keeping better connected with your acquaintances), to Twitter (keeping up with acquaintances AND people you would have never met before).

    But back to the talk about subtitles. I have only watched a few German movies with subtitles, but even with my rough German I can pick up a lot of weirdness in the translations. There was a post on TechCrunch last week about a “social document editing” type of service, MixedInk, that could actually be pretty useful for what Matt is talking about. Someone who is familiar with the format of .sub files or syncing them with DVDs (is this possible yet?) could set up the format, and users could contribute and improve translations. I think the service is being used to create a “people’s inaugural address,” but I could see how it might work for this.

  2. Hy said:

    I’ve been reading your blog for a while. I am currently a foreign student in uk, in a well known institution. The thing that really bugs me is that most of the uk/american students don’t have a good knowledge of world cinema. I mean… last time I went out with them, they were talking about batman, and I was talking to this finnish student about mexican and asian cinema.
    This trend is not very good, and I don’t see why you are blaming technology for it. The problem is that your industry is killing your foreign knowledge in cinema. You often regard french, italian, spanish movies as “european” movies, as well as disregarding any movie that’s not spoken in english (even the dubbed ones). You are being put behind in high profile festivals because of this. Cinema is moving and developing in other areas of the world. It might not be as marketed as yours, but as an art language, it is for sure. Last time I count, there were 250 features produced in South America alone.

    We were raised in countries that subtitles everything from chinese, to swedish movies… we are used to subtitles because english is subtitled as well. You should start demanding a larger offer of movies, or you might be put behind.

  3. Not that I’m totally impressed, but this is more than I expected for when I found a link on Furl telling that the info is awesome. Thanks.

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