VDM And UMW Collaborate On Crowd-Sourced Subtitles


FRA: VDM, one of France's longest-established audiovisual businesses, has collaborated with digital distribution specialist Under the Milky Way (UMW) to develop a cost-effective solution to the need to subtitle European films.

The partnership was established in response to a European Commission call for tenders, Crowdsourcing Subtitling to Increase the Circulation of European Works.

The challenge for European film-makers, particularly in countries which are just emerging as creative movie centres, is to achieve a wide distribution for local language films. The project, called Working_(SUB)_Titles, aims to reduce the high production cost of subtitles. It has already been used for the Estonian film Nullpunkt, distributed by UMW for VoD platforms. An initial release in 24 European languages was such a huge success it has now been distributed in a further 80 countries, including the USA, China and Brazil.

"We explored various ways to produce subtitles at a competitive cost," said Jean-Christophe Coin, General Manager at VDM. "We looked at solutions based on machine translation, but we quickly discounted this possibility because the quality was not up to the high standards expected on VoD/OTT platforms."

The solution developed by VDM and UMW relies on both human and digital components. As the EU call for tenders suggested, the answer lies in part in crowd-sourcing, using multiple human translators to speed the work. "We recruited a community of freelance translators, professionals who were not necessarily in the subtitling industry but who had an interest in it," said Coin.

The process of creating successful subtitles is two-fold: it needs an accurate and sympathetic translation; and it needs placement and timing of the subtitles to match the film's dialogue and action. "Machines cannot account for the artistic dimension," Coin said. "We never compromised quality, but through seamless workflows we were able to reduce the final cost and be more responsive."

For Under the Milky Way, President Jérôme Chung said "In the digital era, commercial development goes hand in hand with technological development. For this reason, our partnership with VDM was the best solution to carry out this European project."

VDM and UMW had previously collaborated on VDM Connect, a powerful tool to manage the assets associated with a movie in distribution. These include alternative languages, subtitles, related artwork and more. This is a key requirement in distribution: the XML metadata file for iTunes for a major movie like Apocalypse Now is over 2500 lines long, and any error will result in the package being rejected.

To solve the issue VDM developed a collaborative asset management tool which ensures all required data fields are correctly populated. The data processing engine ensures that the correct information is lodged in each different metadata schema, largely automating the process of dealing with different distribution platforms. VDM Connect is offered as a software-as-a-service, and currently the data archive covers more than 5,400 films and 16,000 packages.

"We worked very closely with Under the Milky Way," said Coin. "They were a valuable partner throughout the development phase, and we still call upon them for insights on the needs of rights holders."

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