Translating your content is about to get a whole lot tougher. The streaming boom, unattractive industry wages, and a lack of automated solutions are creating a bottleneck that could take years to clear. As the media giants like Disney and Netflix hoard the global supply of translation resources, anyone else who wants to localize video content is quickly running out of options.

In recent weeks, the prospect of a “severe” global translator shortage has been a hot (and controversial) topic. Large localization companies are claiming that they have no capacity to offer services to new clients due to unprecedented demand. 

Meanwhile, groups that represent professional translators state that this problem is due to the low compensation offered by these companies driving translators away.

By understanding exactly why this shortage exists, you’ll be able to prepare for the years ahead so that your localization efforts are not negatively impacted by this shortage.

What is the global translator shortage?

A common route for businesses to outsource the translation of their content is via a language service provider (LSP). LSPs offer a wide range of translation services, including subtitles, dubbing, and everything in between.

Currently, many LSPs are under significant pressure to meet the demands of streaming services like Amazon Prime, Netflix, and Disney. The streamable content they produce is being consumed on an international scale as we’ve never seen before. One series, consisting of multiple hours of content, will be translated into dozens of languages, including subtitles and dubbed audio tracks. The amount of resource this absorbs from an LSP leaves little to no capacity to take on projects outside of this space.

If we look at Netflix’s recent hit, Squid Game, as an example, most of the over 111 million viewers of the series watched it using some form of translation. It was subtitled in 31 languages and recorded with 13 dubbed versions. 

Source: Statista

“When I was at Netflix, we got comfortable with the industry always absorbing our work,” says Chris Fetner, who created localization strategies at Netflix for nine years. “It’s really hitting a saturation point, where the sponge can’t take any more water right now.” (Rest of World)

Fetner is now the director of the Entertainment Globalization Association (EGA), a trade association for localization companies. He says that many of his member organizations have stopped accepting new work until 2023 and beyond and he predicts translation orders piling up across the world.

Similarly, David Lee, the CEO of Iyuno-SDI, one of the industry’s largest subtitling and dubbing providers, told Rest of World:

“I can tell you literally, this industry will be out of supply over demand for the upcoming two to three years. Nobody to translate, nobody to dub, nobody to mix –– the industry just doesn’t have enough resources to do it.”

Why is the global translator shortage controversial?

Following the media attention around these statements and the shortage in general, the American Translators Association released a public statement saying:

“There is no shortage, but instead a disconnect between the value of this skilled work and the pay offered, leading to a perceived lack of qualified professionals available for these jobs and subpar subtitles in the world’s most popular titles in film and TV.”

However, the ATA President, Madalena Sánchez Zampaulo, later told Multilingual that if this lack of fair compensation continues, it’s likely that even more professional translators will specialize in other industries, which will ultimately impact the bottom line of international media companies as audiences reject poor quality translations.

In fact, several major translator associations have blacklisted Iyuno-SDI, the company quoted earlier, due to increasing cuts to their freelance subtitling rates.

But this problem has no quick fix. With LSP clients wanting to translate more content than ever into more languages than ever, cutting costs to do this is key to scaling. And even if they were suddenly willing to pay more for these services, it takes years to train a skilled translator, which likely wouldn’t be fast enough to keep pace with the explosion in demand they’re trying to meet.

What role can technology play in solving the global translator shortage?

As other industries have been met with the sudden pressure to scale, they’ve turned to technology and automation to help plug the gaps. But the translation industry is still incredibly reliant on manual human input.

While there are automated translation options on the market, they’ve not been embraced widely due to concerns over their quality. Most automated video translation is relegated to automated captions on YouTube videos. It’s rarely used for high-budget scripted dramas.

But that doesn’t mean automation and AI can’t help combat the translator shortage. To address the quality concerns, many solutions combine technology and human translation to accelerate workflows while maintaining high quality. You can create AI-generated subtitles, for example, that are then checked and edited by a translator. 

At Papercup, we take this a step further and use AI and synthetic voices to automatically create voiceovers in new languages. This is all quality assessed and edited by human translation experts to make sure the translation is correct and the voices sound authentic. Listen to what that sounds like when Cinedigm used Papercup to dub Bob Ross:

Bob Ross stands in front of an eisel as he paints a landscape painting during his TV series, The Joy of Painting

While this technology can’t be applied to all media genres and formats (yet), it’s capable of scaling translation across a wide range of content types with speedy turnarounds at a low cost. This frees up the limited supply of professional translators to focus on high-priority projects that genuinely need end-to-end manual translation.

Insider, formerly known as Business Insider, recently used Papercup's AI to dub its English video library into Spanish and it received 100 million views in just a few weeks. These are real solutions already in market delivering real results.

As the streaming giants continue to demand the resources of LSPs, most companies will need to turn to alternative means to translate their content, such as new technologies. The price of not localizing at all is too high in our rapidly globalized world.