by Deborah Wexler
In conversations about audiovisual translation, I often hear statements such as, “Clients don’t care about quality,” “Agencies don’t care about quality,” “Translators don’t care about quality,” and so on. This begs the question, who wants quality? And ultimately, who is responsible for it?
First, let’s take a look at the audiovisual content ecosystem. Its members are content creators (studios, independent filmmakers, etc.), content providers (streaming services, broadcasters, etc.), translation agencies (posthouses, subtitling houses, dubbing studios, etc.), linguists, and consumers.
On the creation side, does everybody want quality? The short answer is yes… but with a caveat.
Content creators and providers will always want quality, as long as it’s accomplished within their time frame and budget. It’s not that they’re sitting around going, “I want to put out products with the worst quality in the world. I couldn’t care less about brand-damaging consequences due to customer dissatisfaction.” But wanting quality and demanding quality are entirely different things. To strive for quality, content creators and providers would have to resist the two “quality killers”: insufficient time to perform quality work and insufficient money to fund quality work. The “quality-time-money” triangle has been written about exhaustively, but it’s still ignored by many. Its bare-bones premise is that we can only pick two elements of the fast-cheap-good triad.
On the consumer side, does everybody want quality? Yes!
Consumers will always want quality. But wanting quality and demanding quality are also two different things. To expect quality, consumers need to do their part and inform the system when errors or defects slip by.
It’s clear that everybody wants quality, but who should be responsible for quality? The answer: the entire ecosystem. In the words of W. Edwards Deming, the quality guru, “In a well-organized system, all the components work together to support each other.”
The individual consumer has the least input in the audiovisual content ecosystem. But as individual consumers, there is one thing we can control: our voice. And having a voice carries responsibility.
We are witnessing the phenomenal growth of streaming content. The largest global streaming company already has a button that allows us to flag errors. But do we? Do we pause our movie, click the button, write a note about the error and go back to our movie? No. We just repeat the tired phrase, “These people don’t care about quality.” Consumers usually don’t do their part; they want to be left alone to watch their content in peace.
But if, instead, we started creating a consumer culture of “assess-report-improve,” we would be nourishing the audiovisual content ecosystem and letting the creators or providers know that it’s okay to pay for quality and to take their time to achieve it. As end users, we are not part of the quality-assurance process, which is a preventive measure, but of the quality-control process, which evaluates and helps with future improvements.
How do we assess quality as consumers? A simple way is to ask whether the subtitles or dubbing stream met our expectations. For example: Did it have typos? No. Did it have translation errors? No. Were we able to read the subtitles before they disappeared from the screen? Yes. Then the quality is good. Style preferences should not be considered as a variable in assessing quality at this stage.
If we look more closely and narrow down the universe of consumers to look at the audiovisual linguists and editors, they have a unique, informed, comprehensive, and consumer-focused perspective that can be invaluable: they know enough to point out real mistakes when caught as end users. And they should do their part to help accomplish the purest goal of this ecosystem: to create quality subtitle and dubbing products.
Since everyone both wants quality and it’s responsible for it, we should consider it a team activity, and as such, accept and enjoy being part of this wonderful ecosystem.
“W. Edwards Deming.” The British Library. https://www.bl.uk/people/w-edwards-deming
K. K. Navaratnam & Rory O’Connor. “Quality Assurance in Vocational Education: meeting the needs of the nineties”. The Vocational Aspect of Education (1993) 45:2, 113-122, DOI: 10.1080/0305787930450202.
Jose, Harish. “Dharma, Karma and Quality” (2016). https://harishsnotebook.wordpress.com/2016/06/19/dharma-karma-andquality/
Deming, W. E. “The New Economics for Industry, Government & Education”. Cambridge: Massachusetts Institute of Technology Center for Advanced Engineering Study (1993). https://maaw.info/ArticleSummaries/ArtSumDeming93.htm