With the increasing globalization of the media market, DISCOP Johannesburg 2019 hosted a panel discussion on the growing importance of dubbing and subtitling content that can travel.
“Dubbing is an important and critical tool and also a cost-effective tool to deliver on the mandate to deliver premium content to our viewers,” says Jacqueline Hlongwane, programming manager for SABC2. South Africa Broadcasting Company channels have to deliver 65 percent local content, 70 to 80 percent of which must be local-language, excluding English. “You can imagine what that means. We have three channels and so many hours in the day. And only so much in terms of budget. We can’t duplicate. We have to be really creative.”
As far as what ends up on the slate, Hlongwane puts a premium on quality. “It’s all about the quality of the content, the story and whether people can resonate with these characters,” she says. “That’s the most important thing. There’s no point in dubbing something that people don’t want to watch.”
According to Hlongwane, dubbing works best in South Africa with children’s content and animation. South African adults are not necessarily accustomed to watching dubbed television, making it a less useful tool at the moment for dramas and other such scripted programming geared toward them—though there are signs this could change. “It is a cost-effective way of producing content, and a way to continue to promote our local language,” says Hlongwane, adding that having kids’ content dubbed into the local language “is really great because kids can hear their languages while watching world-class content.”
At Vubiquity, one of the world’s largest content aggregators, “localization is extremely important,” says Jason Keiles, the company’s VP of global content strategy. “We do oftentimes take international content and localize it for our customers. Whether it’s dubbed or subtitled, we want to make sure the content is being consumed by as many people as possible and consumed in a way that makes sense to them.” Keiles adds, “Quality of story, acting, all need to be there and goes hand-in-hand in how that content is delivered in non-native markets in dubbed language.”
As SABC prepares to enter the digital space with a direct-to-consumer offering, Hlongwane believes that the broadcaster will have more room to cater to its diverse audience base. “In a digital space, you’re able to have dedicated channels for a particular audience,” she says, explaining how challenging it can be to speak to so many cultures. “We’re not doing enough, but we’re doing the best we can. In a DTT [Digital Terrestrial Television] space, we’ll have more space. The sooner we get into that space the better for us and our viewers.”
Already in the digital space is The Africa Channel. “We have two strategies when it comes to African content—obviously the linear channel—and the OTT platform speaks to exporting African content to audiences outside the continent,” explains Brendan Gabriel, VP of production and creative director for The Africa Channel. “For our linear channel, there are limitations. The content we have to take for The Africa Channel has to be predominantly in English,” Gabriel adds, noting that the company has some solid shows coming out of the continent that are subtitled in English to make them accessible to North American and Caribbean audiences.
With that being said, with The Africa Channel’s Demand Africa OTT service, the company has a broader mandate for local-language. “Subtitles once again are very important,” says Gabriel. “It opens up that audience even more.” For The Africa Channel’s original development, it is producing a lot of content in English to export back into Africa as well as to the West and the East. “We’re trying to portray a narrative of Africa we don’t see enough,” says Gabriel. “One way of making it tangible to the audience is producing in English. The other way is dubbing our content into local languages and distributing it into those countries.”
The Africa Channel wants to broaden audiences’ perspective on Africa and the content it produces with great quality productions with relevant characters that resonate. Dubbing is something that the company has explored. “We’re new in the game for championing this narrative, which we’ve been trying to do for the last 12 years,” Gabriel says. “It’s interesting to see how we’ve managed to spark interest in places like Spain in African content that we’ve produced.” Though The Africa Channel’s strategy remains focused on English, it would like to evolve its OTT platform to cater to French-, Portuguese- and Spanish-speaking peoples.
Vubiquity, which acquires most of its African content to redistribute within the continent, also has plans to expand its mandate. “We have a large presence in the U.S.,” says Keiles. “There’s ultimately an opportunity to send African content there, but right now, we’re focused on serving Africa-based customers with African content.”
As the appetite for international content—including African content—grows, SABC wants to amp up its efforts to produce its own titles. “We need to be producing our own animation with South African performers that can be distributed around the world,” says Hlongwane. “Dubbed content is a way of selling your own country, your own culture so people can see how amazing South Africa is.”
Hlongwane adds, “Some of our content is really universal in terms of stories. There’s an appetite, but there are challenges around languages and things like that.” However, the opportunity is there. An SABC1 flagship program has been dubbed into French and is being broadcast in Francophone Africa and will soon be broadcast on Canal+ in France. “The feedback has been phenomenal.” With that positive feedback and a library with thousands of hours of content waiting to be exploited, Hlongwane believes that the way forward to up revenue is to think of content in a more multidimensional way—imagining where it could travel to at the outset and preparing for the eventuality. “People are interested in South Africa,” she says. “I don’t think we’re short on content or stories. It’s how we organize ourselves and how we work—not only for foreign territories—but also just for us in South Africa.”
Summing up one of the tools to bring diverse content to diverse viewers within and without Africa and its countries, Hlongwane says, “At the end of the day, we need to remember dubbing is an art. You’re trying to recreate what the original scriptwriters, the conceptualizers of that piece of content [made], in a different language. It is a creative process and we must always remember that.”