JBI Studios' Blog on Voice-Over, Dubbing, and Multimedia Localization.

3 Must-Ask Questions for Accurate Subtitles Video Translation Quotes

Subtitles are excellent for video translation projects. For starters, they’re incredibly cost-effective. Second, they integrate seamlessly with just about any video delivery platform, from broadcast, to DVD, to online platforms like YouTube and Netflix. This abundance of subtitles deliverables, however, is also what makes them a little tricky to produce, which can add to their cost. Fortunately, by asking three simple questions, localization professionals can avoid these issues.

This post will list the three crucial questions that should be asked to get accurate subtitles project quotes, and to avoid issues during production.

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A format to fit all video translation deliverables

As we mentioned in the introduction, there really is a subtitle option for just about all of the ways that videos can be distributed. This includes as stand-alone video files, on DVDs or Blu-rays; or on one of the myriad online distribution sites like Netflix or Hulu, on online video platforms like YouTube and Vimeo, and in digital cinema packages. Each one of these distribution platforms, however, has different file encoding requirements. Some even have multiple ones – for example, DVDs require different kinds of subtitle files depending on what program is being used to author them (and there are several professional DVD authoring programs out there). In fact, there are literally hundreds of subtitles formats, and they don’t play well with each other. A subtitle file for YouTube will not be useable in most DVD authoring programs; likewise, a broadcast captions file will not work in most online video platforms.


To make matters trickier, the actual content of the subtitles may depend on different requirements, like whether they’re for the hard-of-hearing as well as for content translations, or whether they’ll be burned-in or delivered as text files. What content is actually contained in the subtitles will also depend on how the overall videos are being localized – for example, whether a single video being used for all subtitles translations or separate videos will be created for each language will have a huge impact in what content will be included in the subtitles track.

Fortunately, there are three key questions that you can ask during the subtitles quoting phase to avoid most of these issues. They follow.

1. Do you need subtitles or captions?

This is a key question for your project, and first, it’s important to understand the difference between captions and subtitles.

Captions Subtitles
Make videos accessible to the deaf and hard-of-hearing.  Make videos accessible to speakers of other languages.

Display any audible content.

Display any linguistic content in a foreign language.

Usually in the same language as the original, they make any audio accessible to deaf or hard-of-hearing viewers, including sound effects (“door slams”) or music (“jaunty music plays”). Any dialog, narration, titles, or in-camera text (like street signs or newspaper headlines) is translated. 


Note that this question directly affects what information is in the final captions or subtitles files – therefore, it’s really important to answer this question before quoting the project. Note also that the answer may not be a simple either/or – some projects may require making videos accessible to the hearing-impaired, as well as translating them for non-English-speaking audiences. In this case, the final subtitles files should not only contain all the linguistic content, but all of the audible content as well.

For more information in the difference between subtitles and captions, check out our previous post, Are subtitles & captions the same thing? (No.)

2. Where will the subtitles be used?

Does your client plan to upload the videos to YouTube, Vimeo or Wistia? Are the captions being created for a release on Netflix, Hulu, or HBOGo? Or for broadcast on TV? For a Blu-ray created in Sonic Scenarist? For an internal DVD authored in Adobe Encore? For an e-Learning LMS that uses a proprietary video player? For integration into an app or video game? We could go on, but you get the idea.

Knowing exactly how or where the video content will be distributed is possibly the best single piece of information you can have to quote a project. Not only will it help your multimedia localization vendor quote the proper workflow, but it will also ensure that the final subtitles integration is seamless.

3. Does your video have on-screen titles? Need them localized?

On-screen titles and graphics are the most common reason for cost overruns and delays in video localization projects. Why? Because they’re usually not factored into quotes, so that they have to be translated last-minute, and integrated by themselves. Moreover, the options for localizing them are limited by the way that a video is delivered – and sometimes that conflicts with the initial localization plan.

Therefore, it’s not just key to decide whether or not you or your client wants to localize the on-screen titles, but it’s also just as important to compare that with the options available in a particular distribution platform. For example, if a client is adding subtitles to a DVD, localizing the titles in the video is not an option, since DVDs have limited space which is usually maxed out by the video and voice-over dubbing tracks. In that situation, it’d be ideal to add as many translations as possible to the subtitles track – this is not difficult or costly to do early on in the production workflow, but can be if it has to be done last-minute during the integration phase.

Keep asking these questions during production

Even if you’ve gotten all of these questions answered, keep digging during production into how the subtitles or captions will be used. For example, if your client is subtitling a project that already has a captions file, send that file to your production studio – not only can they base the subtitles files off it with some tweaking (making the project more cost-effective), but they can also make sure that their own file deliverable format is completely correct. Likewise, try to do a spot-test of the deliverable files in the final distribution platform – this is especially crucial when the client is using a proprietary online platform, since the subtitles formats in those can be tweaked almost endlessly. Remember that making changes in the source English before translation is more cost-effective and less error-prone that making them in a large set of localized files. And as always, plan ahead – do this testing or tweaking before production starts if it’s at all possible. As with all elements of translation & localization, planning ahead is the best way to keep projects on budget and on time.

8 Audio, Video & Subtitles Terms You Should Know

Topics: Subtitles & Captions Translation & Localization Video Translation

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