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There’s Money in Going Multilingual: What Other Streaming Services Can Learn from Netflix

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Netflix is chillin.

Right now, the streaming service giant has a very solid lead over its competitors. As of the second quarter of 2021, Netflix has 209 million paying subscribers around the world. That’s 16 million more subscribers for the same period as last year and over 50 million more compared to Amazon Prime Video, which is its closest competitor.

So, what’s behind this success? What are the lessons that other streaming services can learn from Netflix? How does it handle localization? Localization is the process of adapting content for a specific location.

Localization Services: The Secret Behind Netflix’s Growth

There are several factors that fueled the rise of Netflix. For one,  it’s one of the pioneers in the field. Together with Hulu, it was already streaming even before its competitors were conceptualized. In fact, it was the success of Netflix which spurred the creation of other streaming services.

Another reason why the company was able to get so many subscribers is that the company has kept the price of the subscription to its service quite low.  Low prices are always a draw.

Being first and low pricing has its benefits, but what is the main factor that caused the growth of Netflix that other streaming services and maybe even other companies in different industries can learn from?

It Pays To Be Multilingual

The biggest fuel to Netflix’s phenomenal growth is its content.

When it started out, it only streamed existing movies and TV shows, but in 2013, the company started to produce its own original content. So far, the company has produced 1,500 original titles. Many of these movies and shows have become major hits.

While the company initially focused on English-language content, it was soon realized that for it to expand, it would have to offer content in other languages as well.

Not only is Netflix churning international original content, they are also localizing the movies and shows that they are offering. That’s the secret to its expansion in over 190 countries.

The Art of Localization

How does Netflix make its content accessible to its global audience? The company uses localization.

Localization is about adapting a product, which in this case is video content, to fit the conditions of the new market where it is being introduced. For example, the series Narcos was American produced and was shot in Spanish. It was such a huge success and that was partly caused by the localization efforts which allowed it to be accessible to most of Netflix’s subscribers.

Localization services are not just about translating or dubbing the speech of content. It also involves considering the culture of the market. Tomedes, a third-party translation agency, is known as an expert in the art of localization. It handles localization services by working with experienced individuals who understand the requirements and boundaries required in their field, especially the cultural specificities of their target market. Localization also involves being updated with the latest trends and developments in the target location.

Aside from the language, Netflix also changes the choices and the available content depending on the location of the user. Movies and shows available in one country might not be viewable in another.

Localizing the Interface

Because the content shown on the interface is based on location, the trending content will also vary by country or region. For example, while the most popular movie on Netflix as of September 29, 2021, in the United States is  Britney Vs Spears, in Saudi Arabia it’s No One Gets Out Alive.

It’s not just Netflix’s content that is localized through translation, dubbing, and the use of subtitles. The company also localizes the interface of its platform. This is very crucial when localizing for countries like Japan.

This might sound simple, but the company found this quite challenging.

One of the technical problems that the technicians faced when localizing is that the text on the interface will expand when using another language. Because the source language is normally English, sometimes the text can end up 40% longer when translated to the target language. This can be an issue because the text could ruin the layout of the interface if it is not updated.

The user interface for the Netflix platform was designed in English and English text lengths. When the text is translated, there will be inevitable issues with the layout. Those problems would appear whenever the text is translated.

Pseudo Localization

So, what’s the solution to this issue?

Does Netflix’s localization services just go ahead with translating and adjusting the interface?  They use what’s known as pseudo localization which is a process of checking how the text would look like when translated without going through the actual process of translation.

With pseudo translation, the UI teams can check how the layout would appear in other languages while retaining readability in English.

It’s a rather technical process but the bottomline is that it saves the company a great deal of time and money. Having to make massive changes to the interface later on for each language used will take a lot of effort to correct.

Other Factors of Localization

There are other factors that are considered by the localization services team for Netflix.

For example, scripts and writing systems are read and written in different directions. They can be read right to left for example. Aside from the direction and the length of the text, the appearance of the text in the target language has to be considered too by the team doing the translation services.

So, what can other streaming services learn from Netflix?

First, expansion does not come out of anywhere. Although Netflix is a pioneer in the streaming service industry and was ahead of everyone else, they were not complacent. They actively sought expansion and they used localization and the power of multilingual content to their advantage.