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Squid Game and Netflix’s use of subtitles

If you’ve had a conversation with, well, pretty much anyone over the last month, then you would’ve heard of Squid Game. As the latest Netflix smash-hit, you’d be forgiven for lumping the nine-part drama series in with the likes of Tiger King and Bridgerton, but the hype around Squid Game is different.

Written and produced in South Korea, the success of Squid Game marks an important turning point for foreign language content, and how we consume it in the English-speaking world. Prompting conversations about subtitles, language, and translation, the show is really helping to bring the importance of international titles to people’s attention.

So, this got us thinking about Netflix and its offering of foreign language content. Is international content beginning to take over the streaming service? As more and more non-English titles find success on the site, are audiences becoming more accepting of the ‘subtitles barrier’ than ever before?

Most popular titles

There’s no doubt that some of Netflix’s top performers are English language shows – Sex Education, The Crown, You, Friends… the list goes on. But some of the biggest titles that steal the show (no pun intended) are foreign language ones.

When considering Netflix’s most popular offerings, Barbarians (Germany), #Alive (Korea), Ragnarok (Norway), and Lost Bullet (France) all made the top 10 list in over 85 countries. So we start to see the popularity of foreign language titles, and that’s without even mentioning some of the most famous ones.

La Casa de Papel (or, to use its English title, Money Heist) is one of the streaming service’s biggest hits, with its most recent instalment drawing in 69 million viewers in its first four weeks. Following the first season’s original release on Spanish station Antena 3, the show flopped. However, after being picked up by Netflix, Money Heist went on to hold the title of most watched non-English-language programme on the platform, bringing a whole new audience into, not only the world of the heist, but the world of subtitles and international drama.

With Money Heist showing that it’s possible for a non-English show to be massively popular with English-speaking audiences, we can look again at Squid Game. The show was added to Netflix in the middle of September, and has since racked up over 111m viewers, making it the streaming service’s most successful debut ever. When compared to its English-language competitors offered on the site, Squid Game was nearly 100x more in-demand than the average show.

Crazy stats, right? So what does this mean for Netflix? Well, thanks to Squid Game, subscriptions to the site have picked up, with more than double the amount of new users signing up to Netflix in this quarter than the previous one.

Not only that, but viewers are clearly developing a thirst for Korean drama, with plenty heading to other East Asian series like Sweet Home and Alice in Borderland after binging Squid Game. Ah, the power of the international, foreign language drama!

Are we more accepting of subtitles?

It’s all well and good celebrating the success of these, rightly-deserving, shows, but what does this success actually mean? Does it prove that audiences now see subtitles as less of an inconvenient barrier, and more of a key to interesting, entertaining content?

It’s no secret that English-speaking audiences haven’t always been the biggest fans of ‘reading their shows’, with many viewing subtitles as a chore and an immediate turn-off. But this is definitely changing.

Last year, US viewers consumed 50% more foreign language content, with programmers feeling a growing appetite for these kinds of show. Yes, it’s true that foreign language films are being watched less in the cinema, but streaming services like Netflix are bringing this type of content to the forefront.

The more readily available international titles are to us, the more open we are to watching them, proven perfectly by the success of Squid Game.

Of course, we can’t ignore the alternative viewing option to subtitles: dubbing. For those who watch shows for a bit of background noise, or still view reading subtitles as a chore, then choosing to watch the dubbed version seems like a no-brainer.

Therefore, maybe we can’t completely attribute the success of these shows to an increased acceptance of subtitles, but it definitely plays a part.

The majority of viewers choose to watch a subbed show, instead of a dubbed one, in order to keep the true essence of the show, and to avoid any meaning being lost. Even the creator of Squid Game himself has urged viewers to watch the subtitled version so they can “see the acting [and] the performance from the real actor”. Point taken.

Besides, it’s not just foreign language content that has created an audience of subtitle-lovers. An Ofcom study found that 80% of television viewers who watched content with subtitles were doing so for reasons other than hearing loss. So, although the main purpose of subtitles is to assist those who are hard of hearing or don’t understand the original audio, many of us benefit from the service even if we don’t fit into one of these categories.

So, as viewers, we’re increasingly excited about watching international titles with the subtitles turned on, and, even when we’re watching our favourite shows in English, a huge number of us will opt to keep the captions switched on. What does this mean for the subtitling industry?

Impact on the subtitling industry

With audiences growing more and more accepting of watching content with subtitles, and increasing numbers of viewers relying on them, what effect does this have on the industry?

Well, as we’re more accustomed to subs and captions, more businesses are utilising the service in order to target international audiences and reach global markets. If English-speaking audiences have got over the subtitles barrier, then why shouldn’t global businesses target them with the help of the feature? Not only this, but using subtitles on video content has been proven to help improve a business’ engagement rates, as viewers can watch in eyes-only environments.

Thus, if a business chooses to add subtitles to their newest social media ad, not only will they be ensuring their content is accessible, they’ll also be catering for more of an international audience.

All this without actually alienating any viewers because, as we know, more and more of us are enjoying the use of subs, even if we speak the same language and have no hearing problems. And, if viewers no longer see subtitles as a barrier, we see no reason why they shouldn’t always be included.

Do you need a set of multilingual subtitles for your next video ad? Or perhaps you want to make your next social media campaign more accessible with the use of closed captions? Whatever your needs are, our expert team here at Matinée are on hand to help you.

We’ve been in the subtitling industry for over 30 years, and there’s not much we haven’t been asked to do! Our professional subtitlers use the latest software to deliver high quality and cost-effective video subtitling services in over 80 different languages.

Why not get in touch with our expert team today to find out how we can help you?

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