Will Translation Services Follow YouTube's Transition?

Posted by Ian Henderson on February 27th, 2014 at 11:28 am

YouTube recently released a list of the most popular videos of 2013. As CNET points out, the year's list is strikingly different than the list of the most popular videos of 2012. Rather than amateur, independent filmmakers recording everyday events, the videos that received the most attention in 2013 were slicker, polished and more produced. Some of the top ten included Norwegian comedy duo Ylvis’ “What Does A Fox Say?” and “The Epic Split” from Volvo Trucks and featuring Van Damme.

As the number of videos – and viewers – keeps rising, the appetite for polished, professional videos is growing. Rather than the shakily filmed, amateur videos that often fill YouTube’s coffers, the video-sharing site has also become the go-to hub for brands, entertainers and everyone in between to make their marks. Professional quality has started rising to the top.

Over the past few years, I’ve observed this same trend affecting translation services. Just like amateur YouTube films are losing popularity to professional ones, amateur translators are being replaced by professional translation services. But why is professional translation becoming so much more important? Well, as YouTube’s top 2013 videos show, a little polish goes a long way.

From Contract to Commodity

In the U.S., translators are among the top fifteen fastest-growing jobs, with the field expected to grow by 42 percent from 2012 to 2020. In many cases, translation services are just like YouTube – while YouTube can potentially make a star out of anyone with a camera, the demand for translation can potentially make any bilingual speaker a translator.

But with the advent of technology platforms, automated workflows and crowdsourced translations, traditional models are getting disrupted. Professional translation doesn’t just mean translating copy anymore; it means having an intimate knowledge of the local industry and culture, and a familiarity with the platforms involved – from WordPress to Drupal to JavaScript.

Translation is becoming commoditized. Everyone can use Google Translate for a vaguely accurate, automated translation. Crowdsourcing has solved language barriers for some businesses. However, when one service becomes commoditized – be it video or translation –the standards for the final product only rise higher and higher.

In a day and age in which anyone can create a rough translation of something, companies are expected to provide much, much more. In order to really resonate with an audience, a translation project isn’t just about the words – it’s about the experience.

Globally Local Markets

There’s another interesting phenomenon about YouTube that highlights the shift in the translation market. As YouTube’s head of culture and trends Kevin Allocca wrote, 80 percent of the video-sharing site’s traffic is coming from countries outside the U.S.

Emerging economies have placed a new emphasis on localization that goes beyond translation. If a business is trying to break into a new market, it’s crucial to localize. As the YouTube traffic numbers show, non-English speakers are becoming dominant consumers of media on the Internet. If a brand doesn’t tailor an experience for a local market, it’s likely that the product won’t be able to compete.

That user experience is becoming digital, too. As more consumers become familiar with technology, there’s less documentation about a product. Instructions and tutorials have migrated online. Amateur translators may be able to translate the copy for marketing brochures and instruction manuals, but when a website or a user interface is added to the mix, things get much more complicated.

That leaves companies with two options: to make translation a separate, standalone process or an integral part of the localization campaign.

A Team Effort

The big difference between professional translation and amateur translation is that there’s a team involved. That’s the same thing that we’re seeing with the evolution of YouTube videos. While one person with a camera could reach the most-viewed list a few years ago, it’s clear that, when a team of creative people come together and create something, the audience responds favorably.

When a professional translation team is assembled, a company ensures that the user experience is seamless across printed materials, digital properties and the product. A team means that there’s oversight of the project and an organized, methodical approach, from start to finish. Rather than handing the reins to an independent contractor, businesses hiring professional language service providers are handing the project over to a partner that can invest the resources necessary to make sure everything goes smoothly.

All of this goes back to the changing technology landscape. The translation projects taking place today are much more likely to take place on a screen. While many businesses are still working with industry experts to translate the content, those industry experts can only take the project so far. While they have extensive experience with the subject material, they often don’t know the technology platforms where the project will ultimately be published. Sure, they can work on the copy, but then it’s up to the client to copy-and-paste all of that into the right places. Besides the additional time that this task requires, any copy-and-pasting increases the likelihood of errors when the site goes live.

Video technology has become consumerized to a point that very few people could have foreseen a decade ago, and similarly, translation services have evolved the same way. Technology is allowing for bigger, faster projects. But, just like we’ve seen with YouTube, the success and polish of those projects still depend on the team behind them – and if that team knows how to leverage that technology to its full potential.

3 Responses to “Will Translation Services Follow YouTube's Transition?”

  1. Robert Laing says:

    It's an interesting comparison. I think it's worth thinking about ROI in this context — YouTube is now a valid way to reach a credible audience who spends real money, in a way it wasn't a few years ago. So the professional approach makes sense and can bring real audiences and real revenue.

    With translation you could look at it the same way, in that our customers should be getting the best ROI or the best "Return on Content" from their translation. For some purposes that might mean a super-intensive transcreation, or a for other content it might mean machine translation. I guess the important thing is making sure we get smart about which approach to use.

  2. Ian Henderson says:

    Hi Robert,

    Thanks for reading! I agree that transcreation is going to take precedence for many companies over the coming years.

    As translation services companies diversify and modernize their offerings, it's really going to be a combination of automation, industry expertise and technical know-how that provide the best ROI. In the future, I think that more companies will be looking for localization partners that can help translate, strategize and implement across multiple channels and platforms.


  3. Beatrice Hendon says:

    This is great.

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