The latest problems with series translation

The recent success of TV series has increased the amount of subtitling services opportunities but, at the same time, has also highlighted the new difficulties of maintaining their quality.

Some issues have opened a Pandora’s box of discussion in the world of translation recently. Take for example Netflix’s call for amateur translators to produce its content or how Movistar+ used subtitles that were created for free by Internet users. This caused a lot of conflict between professional and amateur work in an appealing audiovisual market as well as highlighting the difficulties that translators have to face with the evolution of new technology. Is it possible to produce a fast translation without sacrificing quality?

The increasing amount of series that are being broadcasted on TV, computers and mobile devices has created a new profitable form of mass consumption that is both individual and immediate. Despite the growing number of subtitling job opportunities, high costs and the rate at which people are watching shows has lead content companies to rely on a small subtitling team, delegating the task to specialised companies that, in turn, look to be competitive with low prices and fast delivery periods.

When it comes to subtitling, profitability and speed now often come at the expense of attention to detail, with less and less planning and workers involved in the value chain. In order to meet demanding deadlines, important processes are being neglected, including the adaptation of wordplay or cultural references of the source language, image and word synchronisation and content and format editing. Translators receive a very inferior salary in comparison with the intermediating agencies that offer the services.

In January of 2017, Movistar+ Spain became renowned for being a platform that tried to offer high ‘quality’ programs whilst still charging raised tariffs. At the end of an episode of the series ‘Shameless’, the name of the subtitle creator appeared on the screen, as well as the website link for a group of amateurs who produced the work for free so as to broadcast it quickly on the internet. Movistar+ blamed the error on the translation agency to which they had assigned the task; in order to meet their deadline, the agency had subcontracted the job to another entity which performed online subtitling services. However, they did acknowledge not carrying out a quality control test on the final product.

The disinterested work of these internet users made way for another debate. Professionals have to meet certain quality standards when it comes to spelling, grammar, typography and character count. They must also be in compliance with author’s right as well as confidentiality with the contracting party. When it comes to amateurs, these points can go overlooked as they aim to share the final product with viewers accessing the series illegally as quickly as possible.

The platform Netflix aligned itself with HBO and launched the program Hermes to recruit people and pay them by the minute for translations, which only goes to increase the controversy around the topic. The system examines linguistic ability with just one exam of comprehension, grammar and translation textualisation.

For these reasons, a professional translator finds themselves faced with very difficult working conditions and often encounters problems with subtitling, no matter where the work comes from. Either way, those affected are always the viewers.

Translation into English: Madeleine Hancock

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