My takeaways from MESA’s Content Workflow Management Forum

MESA’s annual conference on audiovisual localization took place as usual in London on the last day of February. The event was attended by over 200 delegates, ranging from content owners, language service and technology providers, to academics and consultants, with a keen interest in discussing developments in our field and exchanging views on the latest market trends and on how to overcome the challenges we all face. 

The event started with an inspiring keynote speech delivered by SDI’s CEO, Mark Howorth, who talked about his personal experience in our industry and its unexpected complexity, focusing on two topics that are at the top of everyone’s agenda: the shortage of localization talent and the urgency to address this; and product quality, the differentiation between different quality offerings and the need to be transparent about them. SDI exhibited their newly launched Produb solution, a virtual marketplace for voice talent, and Mark ended his speech by encouraging everyone to join forces at this critical moment in time for our industry: “The audiovisual localization industry will fall apart unless we work together”.

Technology was the overarching theme of this year’s event, with panels on IMF, which as we all now know is more than just a file format, and the benefits of cloud solutions and how to transition to them smoothly. Two such technological approaches were showcased by Nordisk Undertext who recently performed a workflow system integration for Viacom with Plint, NU’s cloud-based management system, and Deluxe who talked about their One platform and how it is intended to be used as a content aggregator platform. Content owners can thus manage and track their content in a single place, for any type of service, from content creation to localization and delivery, without losing the flexibility that working with different providers offers.

Discussions continued in a lively fashion over lunch, following which Jules and Maz, the famous duo from Zoo, took the floor to talk about the localization utopia we all aim for, with their unmistakable British humour. This nicely set the scene for the rest of the afternoon sessions, starting with a panel of major language service providers. Representatives from BTI, Deluxe, Nordisk Undertext, SDI and Zoo shared their thoughts on the challenges we are confronted with and what they are doing to address them. It was great to hear everyone echo Mark Howorth’s collaborative spirit and acknowledge the need to work together – the first time I’ve witnessed this in my 25 years in the industry. Certainly the first step in the right direction! Other key topics brought up were – again – quality, technology, talent crunch, diversification of source languages and the need for a shift in mindset regarding human resources, but also workflows, interoperability and investment in key markets. 

My favourite presentation of the day was the one by Jaime Gine, Chief Customer Officer at Keywords Studios, who clearly take customer experience very seriously. Jaime provided a lively whistle-stop tour of game localization, pointing out how the game industry met some of the issues we are now facing in audiovisual localization… approximately two decades ago. With the implementation of simship in 1999, turnaround times of no more than 24 hours, an agile production workforce, and over 1,000 characters to cast for some games, it was a no brainer for the game industry to adopt cloud solutions early on and resort to language technologies, such as voice synthesis, a long time ago. Sometimes it is easier to look at other industries when searching for solutions to one’s own problems.

The afternoon continued with a special session on machine translation, a topic which came up over and over again throughout the day. Applications of this technology in our industry were showcased by the BBC Monitoring Newsroom and Deutsche Welle as an aid for their journalists, and by Omniscien Technologies who shared their insights from implementing machine translation in the subtitling of over 300,000 hours of entertainment video content. 

The event was wrapped up by giving the floor to the customer, the content owners themselves. Representatives from Discovery, ITV Studios, NBC Universal and Warner Bros effectively summarized some of the current industry trends such as increasing volumes, shrinking windows, capacity issues, quality expectations and the constant evolution of the market. An interest in technological solutions was highlighted by all, while they applauded the spirit of collaboration that seemed to run throughout the entire event. The panelists also talked about the need for better workflows, for creative talent to secure high linguistic quality, about the complexities of moving from linear to non-linear systems, and the need for more open and transparent communication between all stakeholders. 

Acting upon the content owners’ request, we all practiced our communication skills over drinks at the networking event at the end of a very hectic but extremely rewarding day. I am already looking forward to next year’s conference!

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