In the simplest of terms localization is the process of adapting content assets to the culture and language of customers in a different market. Localization is not just lip-synch dubbing but also the various forms of sub-titling, audio descriptions, and narrations. The key to localization is not language. Its culture. We localize to culture – to ensure we capture the nuances and protect the creative intent.
While African cinema is over 100 years old, the explosion of Nollywood has put Africa on the map. Nollywood is prolific and is now the 2nd largest movie industry globally. Bollywood is number 1. In the early 90’s Mexican telenovelas were extremely popular locally. All of this content was dubbed from Spanish to English. This is when Kenyans began to really interface with localization. Local broadcasters like Royal Media started creating vernacular channels, proving very popular. With time Royal Media began dubbing Bollywood and other language content to vernacular languages. These language-specific channels propelled Royal Media into market dominance.
Localization is a value-added service that enables content to expand to various audiences. A great example of the power of localization is the release of the South Korean series “Squid Games”. Its success with global audiences was unexpected and spawned an interest in South Korean culture and content overall. This has continued to grow and spur the growth of the South Korean entertainment industry as a whole.
African Voices Dubbing Company, founded in late 2013, was the 1st dubbing company in East Africa. With no pipeline locally that we could mirror, we had to develop the systems and talent to dub large volumes of content, fast. From QC to translation, transcription, Artistic Directors, Sound Technicians, and everything in between. With no pool of people to draw from we leveraged the diversity of Nairobi to create teams of students, teachers, and lecturers representing languages from all over Africa. With good internet, we were able to pull in more online and so began our love/hate affair with localization.
Our first major project was dubbing content for a channel that was launching on StarTimes. The Bollywood Channel was the best of Bollywood dubbed into Swahili, Luganda, Mozambique Portuguese, African English, Yoruba, and African French. We were producing an average of 60 hours a month per language for the channel. While Bollywood has been popular in Kenya and Africa at large for decades, the added layer of Bollywood in local languages launched a new wave of ardent consumers.
In 2019 African Voices Dubbing Company was acquired by Hiventy Group, a French-based company with over three decades of experience in localization, archiving, and restoration. Becoming a part of Hiventy propelled us to new systems, tighter controls, more resources (talent), more clients, great technology, and training. The African branch of the operation – Hiventy Africa – has offices in Nairobi and Nigeria. As Hiventy Africa we were able to successfully meet the requirements to become Netflix technical partners with the NPFP badge (Netflix Preferred Fulfilment Partner handling licensed content) and NP3 badge (Netflix Post Production Preferred Partner handling Netflix Originals). This is an incredible feat and a testament that Africa can be a powerhouse on the technical side of the film industry.
The COVID-19 global crisis boosted the need for localization exponentially. The lack of fresh content being produced created a necessity to quickly localize existing content to feed very hungry and bored consumers. Localisation in Africa moved very quickly during this period and there was a big rush to license content and localise for global consumption. As the global appetite for African content grew, the commissioning of new content also kicked in. With Netflix leading the pack, Amazon and Disney are now making a serious move into Africa. The reality is the numbers. We are a huge market and the big streamers want a piece of it. Currently, Showmax streams the largest amount of original and licensed Kenyan content, and it is incredible to watch Kenyan content, creativity, humour, and nuances. Imagine what localization could do to drive Kenyan culture into new markets.
We are in a unique position to not only witness how much content – licensed and original – is being picked up by streamers but to go back to Producers and advise them on what is required to improve quality and meet the stringent technical requirements of the people driving the market – streamers. It’s not just good enough to tell great stories, we have to film and package them to the required specifications. Africa’s film industry is no longer a mere supporting actor in show business, it has taken centre stage, captivating audiences both locally and globally. From our hub in Kenya, we have worked to localize titles like Man vs Bee, The Upshaw’s, Kings of Jo Burg, Anikulapo, The Brave Ones and our very own Country Queen, Disconnect, Sincerely Daisy, and many, many more! Some history in the making; The Upshaw’s was the 1st African American series to be dubbed into Swahili. Anikulapo was the 1st film shot in Yoruba to be localized in 32 languages (sub-titled), the 1st audio description in Yoruba, and dubbed into French and English. This is incredibly important because localization gives content creators the ability to film in their language with the certain knowledge that they will still be able to share their creations with the world. It means we do not all have to speak English or other “main” languages to share our creativity with the world. A door has been unlocked.
In late 2022 Hiventy was acquired by TransPerfect – the largest translation company in the world. With branches in Kenya, Nigeria, Morocco, France, Poland, Vietnam and Singapore Hiventy’s expertise in localization was a major driver in this decision. Being part of TransPerfect Media has expanded our access to languages and advanced systems and technology; it elevates us all.
Lights, camera, localization—the time for African stories to shine has arrived, and the world is eagerly watching. With each subtitled line and every dubbed word, the power of localization is scripting a remarkable success story—one where Kenyan and African stories transcend borders, inspire audiences far and wide, and remind us of the universal threads that bind us all.