Workshop 1 – Summary of Findings

1) Most important lessons learned & biggest challenges for the future

To identify and establish common ground between the participants, who came from quite diverse areas of media localisation, each participant was asked to include in their personal introduction two short statements on ‘most important lesson learned in the localisation business’ and ‘biggest challenge ahead.’

Lessons learned:

o   The ‘one-size fits all’ model no longer works; today there is huge complexity to be considered and understood.

o   Don’t assume anything, especially not about territories one is not yet familiar with.

o   Never underestimate local regulation and viewer expectations. Knowledge of both is crucial for success.

o   The quality of a local adaptation determines its success.

o   As a general rule it can be said that the less developed a foreign production market is, the more likely it is to stick closely to the original when producing the local adaptation.

o   In the video games industry it is no longer the device that is important but the content. Attractive content is key.

o   Early involvement of localisation staff makes a positive difference. Games developers should involve localisation managers from the beginning. [This is not currently the case.]


Biggest challenges:

o   Three TV executives highlighted the problem of ‘finding the right balance’ between the original and the local adaptation. The problem, they said, was to know exactly how to localise something without killing off what made the original show successful.

o   There are various forces in companies, pulling in different directions, some towards a more international approach others towards local production and/or heavy localisation. For instance, it was reported that despite depending on international formats (due to a comparatively underdeveloped domestic production market), Croatian TV executives express scepticism towards foreign formats and have strong feelings about the need for domestic content. ‘Internal resistance or tension’ was also cited by another TV executive, who reported that branding executives in the international children’s business usually have a more global, unified vision and resist what their sales colleagues see as necessary cultural adaptation. In a similar vein, a video games localiser noted that to ‘convince management of the necessity for localisation’ was a challenge.

o   Time was seen as a huge challenge by video games localisation executives: One person mentioned how virtual on-line worlds are fast moving and never ending. This means that a translation never finishes and that the timeframe available to carry out localisation gets increasingly shorter. Also, the grown importance of cross-promotion means that a game, for example, has to be ready in time for the release of a movie it is tied in with and which functions as the game’s sales vehicle.     

o   Related to this, another games localiser mentioned the challenge of ‘finding the right balance between localisation costs and the time required to be ready when needed’ (for instance before the film is released). This also means one has to be quick and flexible.

o   Timing, and being quick, is also seen as a challenge in television. Here though because of piracy. The quicker media products are released globally (either in the original or in the adapted version) the smaller are the chances for pirated copies/adaptations to be created and sold.

o   Other challenges in the video games sector named were ‘mastering the continuously and rapidly evolving technology;’

o   ‘Understanding contractual obligations in the yet relatively unknown emerging markets.’ For instance, amongst the various national unions representing voice-over staff across Latin America, there is enormous complexity and difference.

o   Final challenges mentioned were ‘understanding the cultures one wants to sell to and knowing one’s audience;’ and

o   ‘Carrying out a successful content inventory and knowing how to exploit it across platforms and markets.’




Session 1: Producing for the international market

Questions asked to kick-start the session were:

o   What works internationally?

o   What needs to be adapted for cultural reasons? How much?

o   Can and should ‘cultures’ still be nationally defined in an era of individualization, increased migration and deterritorialization?


Responses focused much more on the first two questions, which is probably a reflection of the sales perspective that most participants have to take in their roles and daily concerns and hence have most reflected on:

o   Some issues, such as food or dating, are more global than others. Each product thus needs a different approach. However, most shows are first developed for a local market. Only if they become a success are they then sold to the international market (either in the original version or for adaptation).

o   TV executives working in programming and scheduling believe that audiences want local programmes and hence do generally not market programmes as global products to their audiences.

o   The ‘original local approach’ to production was said not to be true for HIT Entertainment. The company develops products for a global audience, believing that especially pre-schoolers are very similar across the world (much more than older children and adults). HIT thus targets the global market straight away and searches for ideas that work in all their key territories. If something works in the US, the UK and France it is believed to work everywhere.

o   One academic added that not just particular audiences but form, too, is a determining factor in whether something can work globally. Thus, cartoons, where characters usually don’t have a particular local look and feel, are generally better suited for global distribution than programmes with real people.

o   In products that are very hit driven, such as video games, success in key territories is seen as crucial. A game hence will only be developed if all key territories have given it green light.

o   On a positive note it was pointed out that even if international sales are driven by financial considerations and necessities, they should also be seen as a good thing: International sales make ‘local products’ travel (like, for example, The Killing), and greater competition means that the creative industries have to react much more to their audiences today. They have to care to understand their audiences better and to cater to them. This is reflected in the huge demand for interactivity, a feature that has made social media become so big.

o    Numerous participants agreed that offering and exploiting interactivity (e.g. Twitter as a promotional tool) are crucial for the success of any media content today. Similarly, the presence of content on various platforms (with which many young people interact simultaneously) is thought to be crucial – and this is true internationally.

o   On another positive note it was pointed out that new technologies mean that even small producers can reach a global market, and quickly, as the example of Angry Bird has shown.

o   But it was also highlighted that nothing works well, and especially equally well all over the world. Whilst the quality of storytelling and characters are important everywhere, different programmes are big in different markets. They may be distributed and known in many countries but will still experience different degrees of success. This, for example, is due to different countries favouring different genres.

o   Products with historical ‘facts’ are usually problematic because different countries teach different historical ‘facts,’ based on different perspectives. 

o   Asked about the definition of markets and whether the boundaries were changing, it was noted that because of Intellectual Property Rights, which are still mostly based on national borders, countries are still major definers of markets.

o   At the same time, protecting IP rights in a global market with technologies allowing for quick and easy access is difficult. Timing and availability are seen as crucial in the fight against piracy.

o   There is also a positive side to piracy though: several participants agreed that illegal downloading can create a buzz and hence serve as a great, free marketing tool. (For example, Channel 4 is said to have much benefitted from the buzz that the illegal downloading of Homeland had created before its UK broadcast).   


Session 2: Knowledge and skills gaps in localisation

Questions asked to kick-start the session were:

o   Is there a lack of knowledge and/or skills concerning cultural adaptation amongst media executives working at the international level?

o   Is there a need for a more structured approach to localisation? A need for generic written manuals and structured knowledge transfer?

o   Is there a need for short training courses?


At first, many participants opined that people working in their respective industries were quite well equipped, learning on the job and sometimes through internal training, like for example the ‘Entertainment Master Class’ or international workshops in the TV Format industry. Disney Interactive has a manual for its localisation staff in the form of a ‘localisation handbook,’ which provides all staff with key data for each country.


But as the session developed and the more participants reflected on this, the more it became clear that most young people entering the industry are thought not to possess the knowledge and skills desired and expected of them. Interestingly, it was not specific industry skills, like for example particular technological skills that were highlighted. Technology, whilst crucial, was seen as moving much too fast as that universities could keep up with teaching the latest technologies. [They should make an effort, it was pointed out, but at the same time it was admitted that it was near impossible for degree programmes to be completely up to date.] Participants were happy to accept that this is something to be learned on the job.


Moreover, what was once seen as the ‘key skill,’ like translation, is now seen as only one of many necessary skills. Thus, a person working in video games localisation needs to not only know the language and culture they are adapting the game for but also (and even more importantly) have (general) computing skills. Thus, people working in the creative industries today have to be much more multi-talented and skilled than was the case in the past. Continuous learning and flexibility (like in many sectors today) is needed, which also means that the degree a student studies for is (still) not seen as essential; that one degree can be as good a basis as another.


After an hour of discussion it emerged that it was mostly generic skills and ‘business understanding’ that were seen as vital but lacking, and that participants wished universities to equip students with. The following was listed:


Knowledge & understanding

·      Knowing that media businesses are ‘there to make money’ and understanding the need for return on investment (versus creative thinking);

·      Understanding numbers, statistics and balance sheets;

·      Knowledge of key business terminology, like ROI, USP, IPR, break-even, ratings, etc;

·      Knowledge of different personality types (enabling them to work with different people);

·      Recognising and acknowledging that everyone has different expertise and skills;

·      Understanding branding and licensing;

·      Understanding the significance of audiences;

·      Strong sense and knowledge of the local market, whilst at the same time being aware of the global potential of a creative product;

·      Understanding the significance of interactivity and social media for promotional purposes;

·      Knowledge of, an engagement with trade journals.



·      Project management skills (including understanding about accuracy, budgeting, urgency);

·      Self-management skills;

·      Teamwork skills;

·      Language skills;

·      Presentation skills;

·      Time-keeping skills.


Attitude & behaviour

·      Appropriate, professional behaviour;

·      Willingness to listen and learn.


Moreover, there was agreement that it was good for students to learn through case studies and do as much work experience as possible during their time at university. Moreover, they should develop their own project(s) online to demonstrate initiative and self-development before applying for their first job. For students wanting to work in an international environment it is important to have lived abroad (e.g. to have been on exchange programmes during their time at university) and to have acquired international experience.