Why Don't Simulcast Subtitles Get Corrected?

by Justin Sevakis,

Matthew asks:

Why don't streaming sites fix obvious translation mistakes and errors in their subtitles? I'm talking about easy-to-spot and non-controversial mistakes like spelling errors, mixed up sign translations, missing punctuation, etc. When I asked Crunchyroll about this, I was told that "The decision is up to the publisher as to whether to make the correction(s) or not as subtitles are embedded into the video and unless the mistake completely changes the message or if found to be offensive - the video will remain as is." and "the publisher/creator would have to approve or agree to the change. So altering anything after it's been approved and released would be an issue and costly if it is approved - if the error doesn't change the message, they won't approve it based on the cost it takes to change it." Why would this actually cost money? Fixing mistakes like this doesn't seem like a big deal.

I don't necessarily think those responses quite tell the whole story, but I don't blame whoever told you that for not wanting to get into the details because they're kind of messy.

Simulcast subtitles are produced extremely quickly and under great duress. Mistakes, sometimes big but mostly small, get through all the time. it's just a fact of life when you're producing that many subtitles, that quickly. You simply don't have time to proof-read and edit effectively. The job for those working on simulcast subtitles is clear: get it done to a certain standard, and fast. I've written before about how grueling the process is, and the sheer number of shows that Crunchyroll simulcasts is nothing short of mind blowing.

Going back and editing previously posted subtitle scripts doesn't SOUND like a lot of work, and if we were talking about one or two series, it wouldn't be. However, if you include short series, Crunchyroll is listing SEVENTY ONE shows as simulcasts for this season. That is insane, and the crew is, no doubt, stressed to the breaking point. It's all they can do just to keep up with the schedule.

Now, let's think about what going back and editing already-posted episodes means when you're trucking that hard on that many shows. It means you have to stop your normal, already break-neck workflow to go back and find and fix a few lines here and there. What's more, keeping track of all the fixes -- likely an insane number every week -- quickly becomes a harried experience, as each modification needs tracking and databasing in order to keep straight what was fixed and rechecked, and what wasn't. User-suggested fixes have to be evaluated before they're implemented, since a good number of them probably aren't correct anyway. If there's a missing or incomprehensible line, the editor will have to find a translator to go over what it's really supposed to mean.

You then have to re-upload the script file that's played back with the video file on a web browser. You then have to re-encode all of the video files where the subtitles have to be baked into the video: versions that are played on smartphones, tablets and set-top boxes. The entire episode needs to be encoded four times, in SD, 480p, 720p and 1080p modes. And it needs to be uploaded to the network of servers in every corner of the world that balance file availability worldwide (a CDN, or Content Delivery Network), and the modified file would need time to synchronize across all of the servers.

And who would benefit? Such corrections would likely only happen a few days or a week after the episode got posted, when the vast majority of viewers have probably already seen it. Small and even medium-sized errors go by unnoticed by most viewers. So while there are occasionally some real whoppers that get through, the vast majority of these errors will only harm the viewing experience of a small handful of people.

To be honest, I don't know of a licensor that requires that every minor subtitle correction be approved. It's possible that's the case with a few very strict ones. However, it's likely that the far greater factor in the decision not to make every little correction that fans send in is that there just isn't time. Crunchyroll would literally have to hire a dedicated team to go back and make all of these corrections, and at that point it really does cost them money.

People both inside the industry and out have long since given up on thinking perfect subtitles are possible on a simulcast schedule. The scripts are almost always cleaned up and straightened out before being put on a DVD or Blu-ray, which is what the show's original producers care about most.

So, to translate the answer you got into much more blunt language, it appears that they don't correct subtitles because "holy god, we don't have time for that. We'll do it if the licensor makes us, or we wrote something really embarrassing. Otherwise, no." And if I were running Crunchyroll's subtitle department, I would almost certainly say the same thing.

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Justin Sevakis has worked in the anime business for nearly 20 years. He's the founder of Anime News Network, and owner of the video production company MediaOCD. You can follow him on Twitter at @worldofcrap.

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