Disastrous subtitles on streaming platforms: who's to blame ?

Subtitling is certainly getting headlines as 2021 draws to a close. Following on from the Roma scandal, SquidGamegate is a fresh reminder of the vital nature of this form of translation and the often disastrous quality of subtitles on major platforms. Lost in translation: The global streaming boom is creating a severe translator shortage, according to the website restofworld.org. A survey by EGA – the trade association whose members are the world’s biggest localization companies – published by the prestigious website Businesswire shows that 61% of viewers encounter problems on a monthly basis with dubbed and subtitled programmes on streaming platforms. The Guardian for its part wants to know: Where have all the translators gone?

The EGA survey gives cause for concern. 65% of the 15,000 subscribers to the platforms surveyed stopped watching a programme at least once in the course of a year because of poor localization quality. And 30% are forced to stop watching every month. For an example of this quality problem, look no further than the Twitter thread created by the French union of authors and composers (SNAC) on the nonsensical French subtitles for TV series Y: The Last Man.

Reactions to these concerns vary considerably depending who one talks to. The localization industry says that poor subtitle quality is due to a shortage of translators, which forces companies to hire less qualified ones. According to the CEO of the infamous company Iyuno-SDI, which has been blacklisted by professional associations in several countries because of its rate-slashing practices, platforms will simply have to settle for below-par subtitles. So much for aiming high. Too much work and not enough translators, apparently – or, as Chris Fetner, EGA’s Managing Director and former Netflix executive creatively puts it, “the sponge can’t take any more water right now.”