Multimedia localization: the pros and cons of voiceover, subtitles and closed captioning

By Seán Nolan
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Multimedia localization: the pros and cons of voiceover, subtitles and closed captioning

Think of all those multimedia assets your company has created in the last few years: eLearning courses, product videos, marketing videos. Most of them created with blood, sweat and tears. And most of them highly effective at communicating to your global audience.

Of course, most of them are also ill-equipped to resonate with audiences in new language markets. You can’t rewrite, recast, reshoot and re-edit on the fly — this isn’t a Star Wars movie with a Disney pocketbook, most likely.

The power of video

But you understand the power of video and the need for effective translation. An example: an overwhelming majority of employees — 75% for that matter — report that they are more likely to watch video-based training sessions than read documents, emails or web articles. (Can you blame them? Some HR pieces can be pretty cut and dry.)

And what about new prospects? 73% of online-enabled customers say they are more likely to make a purchase after watching videos that explain a product or service (explained by the popularity of YouTube video influencers and their alignment with international brands). Thus, the multimedia localization conundrum: how can you translate multimedia communication assets that were not intended to be translated from the outset?

How to choose the best multimedia translation method?

How can a company find a cost-effective way to transition these assets to engage new prospects, educate and inform customers or new associates, and maintain a consistent brand image across multiple languages?

The answer is to choose one of the three most common localization techniques for multimedia — voiceover, subtitles and closed captioning — that’s right for your business. Each technique has its own unique pros and cons. And this is the purpose of this article: to help explain each technique to find the perfect one (or ones) for your unique localization need. But first, let’s quickly explain each technique.

Closed captioning

You know when you press the wrong button on the TV remote and the white-type-in-black-boxes appear? That’s closed captioning. To remove them, simply press that mysterious button again on your remote.

In videos, they work the same way. Viewers have the option to utilize them or not. Simply click a button and “poof” they’re gone.


You’ve seen at least one French movie, right? And maybe Narcos on Netflix? Chances are, you’ve seen subtitles.

Subtitles are published onto a video, so viewers do not have the option to turn them off. (Whether they want to or not.)

Like closed captions, subtitles take up valuable screen real estate, so trying to keep your subtitles short and sweet can be a pickle. For example, localizing subtitles from English to Spanish and French may require 15% to 30% more written characters on screen.

Depending on your budget and quality needs, AI-enabled subtitling may be the right fit for you. It produces subtitles using a combination of speech recognition and NLP (Natural Language Processing).


Voiceover translation simply replaces the original speaker’s voice with the voice of the target language. However, even though we just said “simply,” there are three options to choose from (all with pros and cons).

Option 1: off-camera narration

This is Morgan Freeman on every TV commercial, every documentary and every animal movie. Some call it the “voice of God”. This is a favorite among training videos with substantial content.

Option 2: UN-style

Aptly named to reflect the UN-style voiceover translation used frequently in United Nations conferences, UN-style offers a translated voiceover that starts a few beats after the on-screen subject.

Option 3: dubbing

Fully experience the video as it was meant to be. Synchronized voiceover requires impeccable timing, talented voiceover artists and even more talented video editing.

Another option is to leverage AI dubbing technologies. These tools can help expedite the process, reduce costs, and help maintain multimedia content’s emotional and cultural essence across languages.

Now that you know the backgrounds and basics of the three most commonly used techniques for multimedia localization, let’s jump into the three most important factors when considering each of these:

  1. Budget
  2. Turnaround Time
  3. Production Value

Best solution for tight budgets

Choose subtitles or closed captioning if your budget is tight. Voiceover is simply too time intensive, and requires a serious investment in studio time (for recording and editing). If you’re choosing between subtitles and closed captions, start with this question: do you want the viewer to have the choice of turning on or off the translations?

If yes, closed captioning is your choice. But if you have a training video that simply must communicate specific talking points, choose subtitles.

Also, think about the quality of your source content. If your company spent hundreds of thousands on a product video, is it wise to spend pennies on the translation with (quite often) a brand-new audience? If you’re sweating thinking about this, choose off-camera narration or UN-style voiceovers.

Have deadline-driven needs?

Choose closed captioning or subtitles. There’s no voice talent, sound professionals or studio mix time needed. Plus, your translation service doesn’t even need to be in the same building to create the video. If your content is static, such as with simple product or marketing videos, go with closed captioning or subtitles with confidence.

Please be aware that variants of languages exist that can be very different depending upon certain regions, such as within Latin America, Canada and Brazil. These unique audiences often require multiple translations, which may require a staggered launching of videos. Also, as mentioned previously, be aware of the real estate on your screen. Most subtitles are limited to 32 characters per line, and two lines on the screen at any given time, so if a substantial amount of on-screen text is necessary, do consider voiceover.

Need high production value? We recommend this.

In the end, you are the protector of your company’s brand — both externally and internally. For companies with well-deserved and well-earned reputations, every video and training module plays a vital role in your growth. So choose voiceover.

Dubbing is obviously more time- and cost-intensive compared to off-camera and UN-style techniques, but can be highly successful for branding.

Advancements in AI technology have significantly improved the quality of multilingual multimedia content. It can be a good option for effectively reaching global audiences while reducing the time and resources required for localization, but make sure it doesn’t hurt your brand.

A team of localization experts, ready to help

If only localizing your videos were as easy as choosing A, B or C. Most likely, you’re juggling a tight deadline with a boss or board of directors that demand high-quality results at a limited budget. No worries, at Acclaro, we have an experienced team of localization experts that can help.

Get in touch to discuss the best options for your company that will “wow” your target audience without blowing your budget.

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