Subtitling And Dubbing Help Gain Viewers

By Marina Del Rivero

Every day, TV channels the world over face the difficult task of trying to increase their audiences. All use their best weapons to bring down competitors with innovative thematic programming blocks and taking gambles with primetime series.


Eduardo Vera of Hallmark Channel

But other tools are needed when trying to hook viewers across multiple regions.
Subtitling, dubbing and closed captions are all valid tools used for reaching across language barriers and penetrating various territories in a region such as Latin America.

Knowing how to put all these tools to good use is of utmost importance, and can help advertising rates, and ratings numbers, increase.

“Our target group is concentrated at the highest levels of the social scale,” said Eduardo Vera, managing director of Sparrowhawk Media for Hallmark Channel. “Subtitles appeal to the tastes of [this] profoundly demanding public that values the [original] sounds and emotions of the performers in each scene,” he explained.

Lucía Suarez, director of Content for Pramer, said her channels — Film and Arts, and Europa Europa — use subtitles throughout their films and series. “The high socio-economic level of those who watch our channels leads them to enjoy subtitles more,” she said. She criticized the methods used for dubbing, saying dubbed content often “ends up being in a neutral Spanish that the people are not accustomed to hearing.”

Miguel Brailovsky, vice president of Programming and Production for The History Channel, concurred with Suarez, adding that, through dubbing it’s hard to grasp how the actors originally meant to come across. “The same goes for a show hosted by a celebrity. The public wants to listen to the real voice of the presenter,” he said.

All the cable and satellite channel executives interviewed for this article concurred that primetime strips should be subtitled if aimed at highly-educated viewers.

As an example, for lower demographics across Latin America, Fox dubs its afternoon housewife-targeted Fox Divas programming block, so viewers can listen to the content while they perform household tasks.

But for a pan-regional channel like Fox, it’s often hard to make general choices about dubbing vs. subtitles. “The preference in Argentina is clearly in favor of subtitles, but in Mexico it is not as much, and it’s even less so in Brazil. Because of the larger number of viewers with lower cultural and educational levels in Brazil, such viewers prefer to watch dubbed series in all dayparts,” said Hernán Donnari, vice president of Operations for Fox Latin American Channels. “In any case, we try to atract the most sophisticated viewers with the highest quality of programming.”

Wilma Maciel, senior director of Programming for Warner Channel, stressed her viewers’ preference for subtitled content instead of dubbing. Her channel holds annual market studies across Latin America, and the results consistently reflect viewers’ desire to watch content accompanied by its original sounds. “Today, we only have one dubbed show (for contractual reasons), which is why we say that almost 100 percent of our programming is subtitled,” she said.

But documentaries are a whole other story. Most docs are dubbed “because they are easier to watch that way,” said The History Channel’s Brailovsky. “Currently, 80 percent of our shows are dubbed,” he specified. National Geographic Channel, for example, is dubbed into neutral Spanish for all countries except Brazil, where it is dubbed into Portuguese Brasilero.

According to Fox’s Donnari, “Subtitling and dubbing are complex processes because of how the language is perceived. The practice changes constantly, as new terms are being modified,” he said. “Once we tried to make Portuguese subtitles for Brazil, from Argentina, and, dubbing neutral Spanish for Latin America from Brazil. But there was always some detail that changed the meaning of the dialogue and showed that it had been dubbed or subtitled by a native of another region,” For this reason, Donnari clarified, the series broadcast in Portuguese on his channel are now subtitled or dubbed by Brazilian companies.
Even though subtitled programs can lead to audience growth and advertising revenue increases, the History Channel’s Brailovsky pointed to a lack of research on advertising investments based on the type of communication.

To Eduardo Vera of Hallmark Channel, it’s not simply subtitling that determines advertising revenues but, rather “the quality and quantity of first-rate content in general.”
Another technology available to cable/satellite and terrestrial TV channels is closed captioning (CC). Unlike subtitles, which are printed directly on the picture and cannot be eliminated, the CC lines can be activated or deactivated by the viewer. Some stations offer CC as an added feature, as is the case with The History Channel and TV stations such as Telefé and Canal 13 in Argentina. 

Spain’s broadcaster TVE goes the extra mile with an additional feature in its weekly news program En Otras Palabras, which caters to the deaf by using sign language.
Similarly, if only sporadically, National Geographic has shown a five-hour special event in Mexico where sign language was applied live for the deaf.