Video localization — the practice of adapting multimedia to a local culture’s norms and expectations — has become a means of communication that should be a part of the business toolkit for any organization.

If you’re already creating videos for your organization, localization offers a great opportunity to create even more returns on your investment in video. Media localization before the digital age was predominantly limited to the film and television industry, but now, through the immense popularity and ubiquity of Internet video, it has never been easier for organizations to use videos that engage with a global and multilingual audience than today.

With­­­ increased availability of high-speed Internet and online video consumption reaching new heights every day, it’s no surprise to hear that by this time next year, 82% of global Internet traffic will be from video. It’s official: video has become the “go-to” medium for many people. The types of video content consumed by viewers runs the gamut, from influencer videos, product reviews, instructional guides and product reviews to live recordings, interviews and more.

Many people have found that they prefer to watch a video to get information or to learn more about a product than to read about it in print material or on a website. Earlier this year, YouTube reported more than 2 billion monthly active users on its platform and a record of 500 hours of new videos uploaded to YouTube every minute.

The strength of these video trends presents significant opportunity for any organization, whether you are a multinational corporation, small-to-medium businesses, startups, governments, non-governmental organization or nonprofit. Video content is a powerful method to engage directly with consumers and appeal to them on an instinctive, emotional level.

The effectiveness of multimedia content bears out in the latest stats: more than 87% of all businesses use video as a marketing and communication tool (up from 81% in 2018 and 63% in 2017). Amid shorter attention spans and Internet noise, the visceral engagement of multimedia is the best way to gain — and maintain — the attention of online audiences.

87% of all businesses use video

So where does video localization fit into this Internet video explosion? Since only about 20% of the world’s population speaks English, videos need to go through a localization process if you want to reach more people and have them relate to your brand or organization. This process happens through the addition of local-language subtitles or voice actors.

As described earlier, videos are an effective way to connect with customers. Organizations can increase returns by identifying new geographic markets and adapting new or already-made videos to the local cultures and conventions of these new audiences. That’s the general objective of multimedia (video) localization.

For some, media localization might sound more technical in theory than it is in practice, but it isn’t. Although there are best practices for the process in order to help projects move efficiently and on time, media localization can be thought of as more of an art than a science.

The aim of this article is to provide a general overview of video localization, starting with the basics of localization and then moving on to the unique nuances specific to video. We’ll define what makes localizing video different from text and describe the process of adapting video content for different cultures and audiences. The process can be applied for the purpose of any type of video content, whether it is e-learning products, news clips to generate ad revenue, promotional videos, and more. Finally, at the end of this post we will provide you with four tips to help you as you execute your multimedia localization strategy.

TL;DR? Watch our video summary!

Some Basics of Localization

Localization, as opposed to video localization, can refer to many mediums and formats, such as text documents, mobile apps, websites … even your shampoo bottle! With the world getting more connected than ever, localization is increasingly important for businesses and organizations searching for growth through global markets. After all, 72% of consumers worldwide spend most or all of their time on websites in their own language and are more likely to make a purchase decision when information about a product or service is available in their own language.

When it comes to communicating with a new audience in another geographic locale and in a different language, translation is just the tip of the iceberg. Translation can help us convert our words to another language, but it doesn’t necessarily help us relate to these new audiences. In other words, translation helps with text, but localization adds context. It addresses not only small-but-essential details, that we usually take for granted, like date and time formatting, currency, and units of measurement; but also local customs, rules, beliefs, traditions, and culture.

We can think of localization as a layer of communication above translation. It refers to taking any of your existing content and transforming it to match and appeal to the cultural and language needs and expectations of a local target market, usually defined by a geographical region or country. Today’s buyers are less willing to make purchases for products and services that aren’t available in their own language or geared towards their specific tastes, so localization is particularly important for multinational companies seeking to grow market share as well as companies looking to enter a new market.

Today’s buyers are less willing to purchase products and services that aren’t available in their own language

As described earlier, localization is a layer of communication that transcends translation. The practice of localization involves not just translating words (the language) but translating them into the local dialect (the spoken vernacular). In the localization process, dialect is the best option between the two. In practice, there is a distinct difference between the two. Whereas language is about being able to understand another person and comprises both the spoken and written word, dialect involves linguistic choices specific to a region or culture. Word choice is often indicative of dialect.

As an example, in American English, the classic knitted, long-sleeved cold-weather top is known as a sweater, whereas in British English, this clothing item is often called a jumper. To confuse matters more, in American English, a jumper is often associated with jumpsuits and overalls, which are one-piece garments that fit over legs as well as arms and body. For U.S. audiences, reading, seeing, or hearing the word “jumper” used in place of “sweater” would be cognitively dissonant to the viewer, and vice versa for audiences in the UK. These mismatches in dialect between the content creator and the audience can disrupt the audience’s experience — along with the message you are trying to communicate. Localization exists to remedy that situation.

In another twist, dialects can evolve, making localization even more of a challenge. To use another US-UK example, “soccer” in the US and “football” in the UK (and in much of the rest of the world) are the same sport: two teams kicking a round ball decorated with black and white pentagons and hexagons. But it turns out that, up until the 1980s, “soccer” was perfectly acceptable in the UK and used by famous celebrities as well. In addition to word usage, slang is also a part of dialect that frequently changes (and you can probably come up with many of your own examples).

via Reddit

If an organization isn’t aware of cultural nuances in linguistic choices, it could affect the reception of a brand in a new market. The Internet is rife with examples of bad translations and lack of understanding of local markets.

By contrast, you know you’ve got great localized content when the localization isn’t discernible to a native speaker — which is to say, it doesn’t come across at all as content that began with a script or transcript that was created in a different language.

In the next section, we cover video localization, which brings the concept of localization to video content.

Localization for Video and Multimedia

Multimedia can include any type of audiovisual content, such as streaming ads, product videos, promotional videos, educational videos, corporate films, and e-learning courses. They all can deliver results if the goal is to create a sense of immediacy to gain the attention of audiences. For the media creator, video localization means the process of making a video available for additional audiences. It’s a process unique and vital to anyone using video to connect with people, and it requires strategic planning because each new adaptation to a different language represents a new growth opportunity.

For those organizations looking to enter new markets (and this can be for noncommercial purposes, as well), the first step in media localization involves selecting new regions or countries with a suitable opportunity; getting to know the technology landscape of localization tools; and developing workflows. In addition, when starting out with localization, it’s helpful to have conversations with subtitle providers with the experience and knowledge to help you accomplish the goal of reaching new audiences.

Localization for video media has its own specific set of processes and requirements from text and web localization. One of the biggest differences is in treatment of subtitles. Subtitles have certain constraints—only so many words can fit onto the screen at once and need to be presented at a reasonable reading speed. Some languages tend to be “longer” than others. For instance, the word “subtitle” has two characters in Mandarin Chinese (“字幕”), eight characters in English, eleven in French (“sous-titres”) and ten in Spanish (“subtítulos”). In a long-form video, those extra characters can really start to add up, so character limits are an important aspect of subtitling.

Character length comparison for the same word in different languages

Subtitling is one of the key steps of multimedia localization, but the process itself begins with a script. If there is no script, then the audio needs to be transcribed in order to have a transcription (transcribing audio into the written word) in place of a script. While some language service providers may have their own unique workflows, the process generally entails:

  1. Transcription – Convert the audio to text if there was no original script
  2. Timestamp the script/transcript to create same-language captions
  3. QA of newly created captions
  4. Translation and localization
  5. Modify timestamps to match new corresponding subtitles, depending on the language
  6. New language subtitles QA review (minimum one round of review)

(If using voice-over and dubbing, timestamp steps 2 and 5 are skipped. However, note that voice-overs and dubbing are not accessible to those with a disabling hearing loss!)

The Amara subtitle editor in action, translating from English to Vietnamese.

Depending on the number of new markets targeted, the script (or transcript) would need to be translated and localized multiple times, in multiple languages. This often can be done in tandem with subtitling, but the workflows do involve specialization in terms of skill set and software knowledge, which is why many companies, like Netflix and Amazon Prime Video, have opted to focus on their own core competencies and entrust subtitle providers to provide multimedia localization services. Now that we’re more familiar with the term and understand the value it can bring to your business, here are some tips below to make sure you can avoid mistakes when localizing your media.

Tips for Video Localization

1.     Include a research phase.

Every country has its own cultural norms and different ways of doing business, especially as we become more and more interdependent in global commerce. Research doesn’t have to be difficult though, especially if you take the time to find reliable sources of information and localization experts to help you adapt your message to different cultures. It’s always good to have multiple sources to verify information. In addition to finding local experts, don’t forget to look into the legal requirements and implications of doing business in a different country.

2.     Don’t rely on automation for accuracy.

While neural machine learning is finding application in translation and speech recognition is getting better all the time, AI technology isn’t “there” yet. Machine-generated subtitles may be the cheapest way to go, but if you want your brand to be relatable and relevant in a new market within a different geographic location, human translators (experts in your target locale), are the way to go. They will help you not only get the dialect right, but they will work with you to ensure that your message is communicated in the way you intended. Everyone, no matter their language or geographical location, should have the same idea and impression about your brand and its values.

3.     Use samples when working with a new localization service.

Before diving in with a big project, sample different service providers with smaller 1-2 minute video subtitling orders so you can evaluate vendor quality before making a decision. It will also give you an opportunity to experience the service and see how they communicate and learn what works well for you, so that expectations are set early on when the project is ready to begin. Though this trial stage does add a bit of time, this extra step can help you avoid bigger headaches down the road, including the risk of having poor quality subtitles go live or doing the work all over again. If you aren’t ready to divulge the full details of your localization needs with a provider, you can always start just by placing a small localization order for a short piece of multimedia and evaluate the quality and service level that way. Sampling a service works both ways and will achieve the goal of getting to know whether a localization provider is the right one for you.

4.     Business planning is key.

It’s easier (and less expensive) to localize in multiple languages within a single project. And think of it this way: you’ve already invested an entire budget on a production, localization might only represent an additional 1% of your total budget. It might end up being one of the least expensive items on the checklist, yet is often the best option, for improving your returns when entering more markets. To this end, you’ll want to be prepared with style guides, branding guidelines and glossaries when you embark on video localization for your business or organization.

As the statistics provided earlier in this article show, video localization is a powerful way to immediately reach and engage with new audiences. As opposed to text-based localized content, localized videos online connect organizations to new audiences instantly and in an engaging way.

Even though it may seem like an uphill battle to win viewers when they have virtually limitless options and the Internet is still expanding with more new content every day, it is in many ways less of a challenge now to engage meaningfully with audiences because, according to the 80/20 rule, everyone is watching video. With bandwidth becoming less and less of a barrier worldwide, the moving image has emerged as the most popular medium of choice. Video localization is a valuable way for organizations to reach more people and serve more markets around the world. 

To simplify video localization for your organization, contact us at We are passionate about our work to make online video accessible to all. Through Amara, you can manage your vendors and subtitling needs with ease on our subtitling management platform, or you can get your subtitles professionally created with an “easy button” (aka Amara On Demand). With Amara, you’ll get a knowledgeable partner who will work with you to achieve your localization goals from beginning to end.

By the way, do you know what’s the difference between subtitles and closed captions? Check out our article: Subtitles vs. Captions: What’s the Difference?

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