Why dubbing has become more crucial to Netflix’s business

Why dubbing has become more crucial to Netflix's business

No one said dubbing a Korean zombie series would be easy.

At a Netflix recording studio off Sunset Boulevard, director Kyung Sok Kim, associate producer Anastasia Barbato and engineer Yoav Litman scanned a large screen as they replayed a scene from an episode of “All of Us Are Dead”. They replaced audio from an English recording made by two voice actors at a nearby sound booth.

The trio watched carefully to make sure the English words matched the Korean actors’ mouths and the performance was authentic to the script.

Director Kyung Sok Kim, left, engineer Yoav Litman and associate producer Anastasia Barbato are behind the English dub of the Netflix show, ‘All of Us Are Dead’.

An English line puzzled them: “Let’s eat, take a bath, then we can talk.”

Kim, who is from Seoul, thought the word “bath” was not true to the Korean word in the original script, which refers to a sauna.

“It’s more a Korean thing when they go to like [the] sauna,” Kim said. “It’s a Korean spa.”

“Would taking a shower work?” asked Barbato.

“I think it’s a little bit different,” Kim said. “It’s more specifically about the Korean Spa.”

Kim changed the line to “spa” and asked the voice actors to show a little more emotion.

“Let’s go for another take,” Kim said over an intercom. ” You’re ready ? »

Getting the translation right has become more crucial than ever for Netflix. Faced with increasing competition and slowing subscriber growth, the Los Gatos, California-based company has invested heavily in foreign-language programming to cater to an increasingly global audience spanning 222 million subscribers.

Consider “All of Us Are Dead,” which debuted on January 28 and has since reached the top 10 in 89 countries, including the United States. The series, about a group of high school students dealing with a zombie virus outbreak, has been dubbed into 14 languages.

“At Netflix, we believe great stories are universal,” said Kathy Rokni, Chief Globalization Officer. “They travel, they connect people, and that’s the driving force for us…to want to not make language a barrier and actually make it an asset in connecting those stories and those emotional moments.”

Last year, Netflix dubbed 5 million minutes of programming and captioned 7 million minutes. Consumption of dubbed programs increased by 120% from 2020 to 2021, the company said.

The growing popularity of Korean and other foreign language dramas has been driving much of the growth. Hollywood’s interest in Korean content reached new heights when “Parasite” won Best Picture at the 2020 Oscars.

Netflix’s most popular series to date is the Korean-language dystopian series “Squid Game”, which drew 1.65 billion hours of viewing in its first 28 days.

And the voice acting played a key role in attracting more viewers. On Netflix, more people chose to watch “Squid Game” dubbed over the version voiced by its original Korean cast. Plans are underway for a second season.

Director Kyung Sok Kim, left, engineer Yoav Litman and associate producer Anastasia Barbato.

(Myung J. Chun/Los Angeles Times)

Engineer Yoav Litman claims that recording the dubs digitally rather than on tape has made the dubbing process much easier.

Engineer Yoav Litman claims that recording the dubs digitally rather than on tape has made the dubbing process much easier.

(Myung J. Chun/Los Angeles Times)

Consumption of Korean content on Netflix has increased sixfold between 2019 and 2021, and the streamer plans to release at least 25 of them titles in Korean this year, up from 15 last year.

“The K-drama market has always had small pockets of success everywhere, but I think the ease of delivery that we’ve provided has kind of pushed that into the mainstream,” said co-CEO Ted Sarandos. and CEO of Netflix. content officer, told analysts last month.

As Netflix strives to expand international programming, dubbing helps make more shows and movies accessible to viewers who don’t like or can’t read subtitles.

“To maximize content, you need to take content in one language and make it available to all languages,” said Maribel Lopez, founder of Lopez Research, a Mount Pleasant, SC-based consulting and market research firm. . “It’s a very smart strategy.”

“All of Us Are Dead” has been dubbed into languages ​​including English, French, Spanish and German, and subtitled in 31 languages. The series can be watched in different ways and most of the viewers prefer to watch it dubbed.

Netflix started dubbing shows in 2015, back when it mostly licensed movies and TV shows.

Today, Netflix provides subtitles in as many 37 languages ​​and dubs up to 34 languages. The dubbing and subtitling team employs several dozen people and has more than doubled in size over the past four years.

Los Angeles resident Harrison Xu, one of the Netflix dubbing studio actors at the protest, has starred in TV shows such as ‘Pretty Little Liars’ and ‘Shameless’ but had never done voice acting before. the pandemic.

“I always had this idea that there were no Asian voice actors. … I was too scared to take the plunge,” Xu said, adding that he is now on his 12th voice acting job. “It’s been really great so far.”

Netflix has a network of partners it works with to dub and subtitle its programs. In 2019, the company signed a deal with SAG-AFTRA that covers dubbing, the only such pact between the union and a streaming service.

It “helped us expand our ability to find new talent,” said Jenni Ross, director of voice acting at Netflix. “It’s created a ton of new jobs because of it.”

Voice actors Victoria Grace and Harrison Xu share a laugh.

Voice actors Victoria Grace as On-jo and Harrison Xu as Cheong-san share a laugh with the control booth during a demonstration of the English dubbing process for the Netflix show ” All of Us Are Dead”.

(Myung J. Chun/Los Angeles Times)

Dubbing takes a lot of work and time. The entire process of dubbing “All of Us Are Dead” into English, including casting and editing, took about three and a half months and involved 55 voice actors.

It is a multi-step process. First, the script is transcribed and goes through a literal English translation. Next, a native English speaker rates the fluency of the translation, taking into account some of the non-English language colloquialisms. Other changes may be needed to adjust the words in the script so that the dialogue matches the lip movements on screen.

“Our goal is always to serve the creators of the show, but at the same time, we have to serve our target audience in the country where they’re going to play,” said John DeMita, head of language production at Netflix. “It’s a wonderful creative process.”

But capturing the cultural nuances can be tricky. Some reviews stated that the translation of “Squid Game” did not fully capture the meaning of the honorifics.

Netflix says it continues to improve the process.

“A translator, a subtitler, a dubber within the limits of dubbing or subtitling technology – they have to be able to be true to that culture, that language, and the creative intent, and that’s is the beauty of the work,” Rokni said. “That’s one of the things we’re learning and hopefully we’ll get better and do better.”

Times staff writers Tracy Brown and Jeong Park contributed to this report.