In an increasingly global media industry, localization has become an even more complex challenge. According to SMPTE, a motion picture can have more than 100 different versions created in its lifespan, often 50+ in the first year alone. For any organization that hopes to extend its reach, being able to provide proper localization — including subtitles, dubs and compliance edits — is critical. The number of businesses that focus on localization is growing quickly to support industry demand but there are challenges in collaborating to deliver content globally. One of those is simply having a common way to refer to all the languages that are in play and so a working group at the Media and Entertainment Services Alliance (MESA) was formed to develop the Language Metadata Table (LMT) to make the process of effective localization more efficient.
Created in 2017 and officially launched in 2018, the LMT is a standardized and unified source of reference for media organizations looking to apply language-specific metadata to a given piece of content to enable localization. Prior to the introduction of the LMT, organizations found that there could be dozens of distinct metadata formats to denote language — that is, one enterprise might mark Spanish as ESP-LA, while another might call it LA-S, and so on. Unsurprisingly, this made localization incredibly difficult, because content distributors couldn’t effectively keep track of what version of a given show or film had which languages, subtitles, or accessibility features.
Addressing the need for the LMT during a presentation for MESA’s 2020 Global Media & Entertainment Day, Yonah Levenson, an expert in metadata strategy and terminology governance at WarnerMedia as well as the LMT’s creator, explained that metadata pertaining to language and localization is especially complex when it comes to media and entertainment.
While a document for a tech firm might only need metadata describing the language in which the document is written, a given piece of media requires distinct metadata for the language of the audio track, the language of the closed captioning, different languages for distribution and acquisition rights, and accessibility features such as sign language, which itself has many different versions. On its own, this presents a daunting amount of information, but if the metadata describing all these vital factors isn’t standardized, effective localization can quickly become a mess.
The LMT, which is constantly updated and revised by a working group composed of experts in localization across the industry, wrangles all of this crucial information, and provides content creators and distributors with everything they need to present their content to a global audience. Not only does the LMT provide the various languages in a piece of media, but offers standards for referring to them in the language itself (for instance, “French” vs. “Francais”), and in a variety of other languages so that, say, a German film distributed to an affiliate in China, ensures that the recipient doesn’t need to waste time translating the metadata information into their own language. The conversion information is already there.
One of the great joys of modern M&E is the opportunity to engage with media from around the world, to be made aware of artists who we otherwise might never get the chance to enjoy. As the industry grows more and more connected, creators and audiences are all the better for it.
For this to happen, however, it’s essential that organizations — including production, post production companies and distributors — have fluid, consistent, and rigorous localization strategies, a necessity which the LMT helps support. While metadata might not be the most exciting element of the content we love, it’s critical in allowing us to create, access, organize, and distribute content to any platform across any border.
Thanks to the MESA Alliance working group, and its leader Yonah Levenson, media organizations are better equipped than ever to make this a reality.