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Changing script: AI, not humans, to write subtitles for movies, soaps

Eros Now has joined hands with Google Cloud to use its artificial intelligence technology for streaming the entire range of its movies and originals with automated subtitles.

March 11, 2021 / 04:07 PM IST

Actor and director Nandita Das once said to reach a global audience, subtitles are critical. OTT platform Eros Now CEO Ali Hussein seems to agree with Das and has taken it a step further by lending it the tech edge. Hussein is automating the process of writing subtitles.

The company has tied up with Google Cloud to use its artificial intelligence (AI) technology for streaming the entire range of Eros Now movies and originals with automated subtitles. Eros Now's movie library has more than 12,000 titles.

"Now, we have developed a machine-learning network algorithm where we provide training data to train it with 50 to 100 movies. The algorithm understands the diction of Hindi across various actors and talent. It converts the audio into Hindi script into an English script and then into an Arabic script," Hussein said.

The new subtitling feature will be first available in Arabic, he said. There is a huge Arabic-speaking audience that prefers Indian content and Eros Now wants to cater to that.

Earlier, it was all done manually. Somebody would do a physical translation from Hindi to English and then write the script. “The script was put in the cue sheet, which is to map against content and dialogue and then subtitles were slapped through tech process called SRT files and then the subtitles came on video," he said.

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While Arabic subtitles are the first to be automated, the platform is working on Bahasa Indonesia for audiences in Indonesia as well as neighbouring Thailand. Indian languages, too, will be part of the programme.

"We are working on a couple of Indian languages. While international is a definite place, we will further go deep in India with languages like Bhojpuri, Marathi, etc," he said.

Eros Now, which has over 211.5 million registered users and 36.2 million paying subscribers, is present in around 150 countries.

Subtitles are special

Subtitles are the name of the game. As OTT platforms flood the market, subtitles bridge the language divide.

Take the example of Netflix's Sacred Games starring Saif Ali Khan and Nawazuddin Siddiqui. While the show was dubbed in four languages, subtitles were available in 24 languages. 

At a media event, a Netflix official had said two of the three Sacred Games viewers were from outside India. Many viewers across the globe prefer subtitles. In China, subtitles work better than dubbing because they like to hear the original language and read subtitles in Mandarin, an OTT expert, who didn’t wish to be identified, said.

Saving time and money

For a global audience, subtitles are what make the difference. But will automating help? Hussein reply was an emphatic yes.

"It used to take 48 hours per movie and now it can be done within seconds. As for cost, it will differ from language to language as training data for different languages is tricky. But on average cost will come down by 20-25 percent," he said.

According to industry estimates, to subtitle a Hindi film in English costs around Rs 1-2 lakh and to subtitle southern ventures in English, around Rs 50,000 to Rs 75,000.

 To err is human, naa machine

But how accurate can a machine be?

Spelling and placement errors did crop up in the manual system and there were chances of mistakes in the automated process as well 

"It is not 100 percent accurate. For Arabic, there is 90 percent accuracy. Our endeavour is that let there be mistakes and let customers point it out and give us feedback and then train the machine better. So, the idea is to crowdsource errors and then improvise and that is the beauty of machine learning. We will be proactive in improving the algorithm over a period of time," Hussein said.​
Maryam Farooqui
first published: Mar 11, 2021 04:07 pm

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