Business Translation Center

What your business can learn from Netflix's approach to translation

by OFER TIROSH 04/10/2018

Unless you’ve been living in a cave for the past five years, the chances are you’ve heard of Netflix. The innovative entertainment streaming company has taken the world by storm thanks to an ambitious expansion plan that has seen it spread across the globe to all but four nations. It’s a model that every business can learn from, for both positive and negative reasons. 

The growth of Netflix

According to Forbes, Netflix’s international segment accounted for 45% of the company’s valuation as at March 2017. The increasing importance of that international element means that it is on track to produce more than half of the company’s revenues by 2023. At that time, if not before, English will no longer be the primary Netflix viewing language. 

Netflix’s growth has been phenomenal. The only countries in which it doesn’t offer services are Crimea, North Korea, Syria and China. The first three aren’t possible due to US government restrictions on US companies. Meanwhile, discussions are apparently ongoing about bringing Netflix to Chinese markets. 

Thinking globally

There is much to learn from Netflix’s approach. Indeed, the company has itself been learning along the course of its international expansion journey. Its approach to translation was criticised by those in the Finnish translation industry back in 2012, largely due to Netflix’s alleged high expectations and low rates of pay for translators. The criticism also cited a lack of time being allowed for the production of subtitles. 

Since then, Netflix has gone on to establish its own online translation platform – Hermes – where language specialists can register to produce subtitles in a wide range of languages. The qualification process includes completing a 90-minute exam, which tests general language skills, plus the ability to translate idioms and to spot technical and linguistic errors. 

The company has also seemingly taken on board the criticism regarding lack of planning for subtitling. By March 2017, The Next Web reported that Netflix was identifying subtitlers for languages that it didn’t even offer to subscribers, thus avoiding earlier issues of trying to book Finnish translation services – and presumably other languages as well – at the last minute, which inevitably impacts on the quality of the translations. 

The takeaways

Video translation and subtitle translation are skilled undertakings. Companies can learn from Netflix’s experience and plan ahead to ensure that they leave sufficient time to carry out these tasks. 

Netflix set its sights high. Its journey may not have always been smooth, but the company embraced the power of translation to deliver its product to global audiences. It has turned out to be an immensely successful strategy and one that businesses around the world are seeking to emulate. 

Final thoughts

Could your company make better use of translation services to expand its reach? Which languages will you be tackling next? Leave a comment to let us know. 

And while you’re here, why not check out the Tomedes Summarization Tool? This handy resource allows you to capture the essence of a web page or other document by summarising its contents. You’re welcome!