The dawn of English dubbing

Globalisation. Digitalisation. Personalisation. The media world is an exciting and ever-changing place where new trends continually turn into new standards. And there’s one that has the industry watching closely: the shift from English-speaking nations only consuming English content. We’re importing and consuming media from other countries in other languages more than ever before.

Simply load up Netflix to see the big picture: English titles make up approximately 55% of the total library in the US, which means 45% are foreign-language titles[1]. There are roughly 62 languages represented on the streaming platform, some of the rarest being Quechua, Sanskrit, Nepali, Persian, Yiddish, Assamese and Wolof[2]. Many foreign-language titles are hugely popular around the world, including Dark (German), Money Heist (Spanish), 365 Days (Polish/Italian) and Kingdom (Korean). So what is all this telling the industry?


Learning from the best

English dubbing is a new frontier. With the success of foreign shows, such as Danish dramas The Killing and Borgen, and French crime series Spiral, all previously broadcast by the BBC, British audiences are no strangers to subtitles. But for English speakers who, in the past, may have been hesitant to give subtitled content a chance, dubbing has opened them up to even greater storylines and a host of new characters. Variety and diversity in accents, cultures and locales is a growing trend across the USA, UK, Australia, South Africa and beyond. To meet this demand, the industry can learn a lot from established dubbing territories. 

It’s in places like France, Italy, Germany, Spain, Brazil and Mexico where dubbing has thrived, in some countries for as long as 50 years, or more. All have well-established processes and an array of trained talent that can work with challenging industry techniques. This talent swims in a huge pool, one where demand is so great that voice actors can comfortably work full-time. Quality is high. Performances are strong. There are also laws and unions set up to protect the local language and regulate dubbing as a profession. 

The foundation for British English dubbing has been laid, but it needs to expand further to offer the same opportunities as other territories. English-speaking countries have had to find their own ways of building talent pools from scratch. Actors with backgrounds in voice-over, theatre, film and television have adapted their existing skills in order to bring characters to life in dubbed productions. On a film set, a cast will interact and play off one another to tap into their characters’ emotions, but dubbing presents a unique challenge. Embodying a character while standing alone in a recording booth is no easy task, particularly when an actor is expected to deliver the same authenticity and emotion to their performance as they would in any other type of role. The demand for dubbing ebbs and flows, so talent may only work on projects occasionally, but momentum has been growing steadily enough to suggest that English dubbing is increasing in popularity.


Speaking up

It’s a mistake to think that foreign content will have the same audience reach if only subtitled. In some cases, dubbing  scales 120% annually[3], which is much faster than subtitling. And it’s not only convenience and preference that are driving this trend forward: the visually impaired, the elderly, young children and people on-the-go all benefit. The likes of Netflix, Amazon, Google, Apple and Disney+ know this and are actively building relationships with quality-first dubbing providers.

English speakers aren’t used to seeing dubbed content, so it’s crucial that every factor – from lip-sync, to performance, to mixing – are tight and convincing. This audience would rather not be reminded that the content is not in its original language, so care and quality are the keys to success. 

At VSI, we have more than 30 years’ experience in multilingual dubbing. During this time, we have developed extensive adaptation processes that ensure our scripts are of the highest quality for the studio, which facilitates recording and improves lip-sync quality. We also work very hard to keep our talent pool ample and varied – and we’re always expanding it. This helps us dial into certain accents and dialects correctly, which is a big consideration for any audience. In addition, we have hundreds of languages in our database, and our studios are located in many territories to guarantee creative consistency and constructive input on projects.

Forming a new future

As the world becomes more globalised and people more interested in different cultures, one thing is certain: international content will continue to seep into new territories. And with that comes a focus on diversity in representation, where different accents and dialects must be heard. 

English dubbing requires a special touch. But by understanding the needs of our audience, and looking at the processes and practices of established territories, we can form a new future for the industry – a future that pays tribute to the real nuances of culture.


[1] & [2] What's on Netflix: Does Netflix Have Too Much Foreign Content? 

[3]  Hollywood Reporter