As multichannel satellite and cable reaches out to every corner of the world, many of the prime channels are global entertainment brands. Although national broadcasters make productions in their local languages, much of the programming on multichannel TV is sourced from content factories of the global brands, notably from Los Angeles.
In the days of videotape, the process of repurposing content for local languages, and ensuring compliance with local regulations, moved very slowly. It could take well over a year for a series out of Hollywood to promulgate across the globe. The rise of piracy, especially file sharing, meant that pirate copies could be viewed a year before a program was shown in a local language version.
One way to address this is to accelerate the release cycle. Leading media companies have now set up processes that make available a French or Italian version within days of the U.S. airing. What enables this change? One big factor has been the shift from tape- to file-based distribution. Dubbing becomes a simple copy, and transcoders can quickly create browse files for subtitlers and other editorial processes.
To reversion content for different markets, a number of necessary operations must take place, one of which takes into account various countries’ regulations on program content. Material of a sexual or violent nature may need to be edited to comply with local laws. Similar editing may be necessary for airline versions or for family viewing.
Once a compliant version is available, the next step is to translate the soundtrack. This can be done by either dubbing a new language track or by subtitling.
The creation of foreign-language versions of content is a complex operation that requires management of assets and resources. MAM systems can manage the association of subtitles and language tracks with the original content on return from the subtitling and dubbing processes. The MAM gives transmission controllers downstream a complete view of the status of the extra language components.
MAM vendor Dalet has much experience in this area. Product manager Raoul Cospen said that one question he often hears is, “How can I optimize my multilingual production workflow?” This question is of particular important considering that the amount of media increases exponentially with new distribution means such as VoD, catch-up TV and a multitude of other platforms.
“If we consider a piece of content, let’s say a movie, we may need a multilingual set of metadata that are associated with the content — for example, title, description and information both in English and in Italian — as well as multiple audio tracks in the required languages, and the same with subtitles or closed-captioning,” Cospen said.
Here are some typical steps that many broadcasters perform to prepare content for distribution:
- Enter a proper set of metadata in multiple languages to be distributed along with the media.
- Dub the audio tracks in post production or send the content to a facility house for audio dubbing.
- Lay the audio tracks in the different language back onto the original media.
- Produce subtitles internally or externally.
- Associate new subtitle information with the media.
- Check the content and the subtitles before playout and distribution.
As can be seen, there are many tasks to perform, by different people, with different systems (audio production, subtitling systems, etc.) and, probably, using different vendors.
“The first word that comes to our mind to manage this kind of multilanguage content preparation workflow is ‘MAM.’ We could even call it ‘MAM for content preparation and promos,’” Cospen said.
Such a MAM needs to support the following operations:
- Provide users with a Web player to preview the video and any of the audio tracks/subtitles (each of them have different languages);
- Gather media and track/enrich its metadata in multiple languages (also with the help of glossaries); and
- Gather, identify and track the audio and subtitle files.
“Finally, the system should manage the user workflows, that is, to assign the tasks needed to produce multilanguage essence and to review and approve them,” Cospen said.
He continued, “This means you must integrate the production tools, audio production and subtitles, in order to ensure metadata continuity and integration of processes. Such MAMs are becoming mandatory for broadcasters who face an increasing volume of content and need to minimize the operational cost impacts.”
“In addition, MAMs track every step of the workflow operations and are able to consolidate that into business reports using (key performance indicators),” Cospen said. “In the world of workflow management, at Dalet, we call this (business activity monitoring). BAM brings a much better visibility on the business activity and the keys to constantly optimize workflows and operational costs.”
Aside from prime networks, channel revenue is being squeezed as audiences become dispersed across more viewing outlets. This is forcing content providers to become “media factories,” which means adopting the methodology of mass production, much like the auto industry. Operating in multiple languages only adds to the need to control cost. Expect to see broadcasters becoming much more familiar with reporting tools, because back-office systems give better visibility of workflows and processes, Cospen said.
File-based operations contribute to cost savings, but due regard must also be given to interoperability between systems. Subtitling, video servers, MAM, playout automation and management systems must all interoperate seamlessly to achieve the goal of lowering costs. Current operations often involve incompatible file formats, dictating rewrapping or conversions. Metadata also must often be rekeyed, a process which can introduce errors. Unnecessary use of videotape to transport content adds QC stages.
To achieve efficient operations in multilingual content distribution, many broadcasters will have to redesign their process flows. The technology exists, and several major names are already operating digital end-to-end systems based on the latest implementations of interoperable systems, with attendant cost savings and the flexibility to adapt the business to changing delivery formats. In summary, for cost-effective multilingual operations, there is no alternative but to change.