The Netflix Effect: Insights for Globalization Managers

The Netflix Effect: Insights for Globalization Managers

The Netflix Effect: Insights for Globalization Managers

Netflix’s bold globalization move in early 2016 got heads turning and the localization industry talking. Every company needs to do more faster and cheaper, but what about releasing your localized product into 130 countries at the same time? That’s a stunning scale. We sat down with Katell Jentreau of Netflix’s globalization team to figure out how they did it.

Research, research, research

One of the keys to their release was to research their target markets and determine which languages, images, and even content would be appropriate for each one. “We know as localizers that the different cultures demand different things,” Jentreau relates. Launching in 130 countries does not mean that they localized into 130 distinct languages. For example, Netflix is in Russia, but not yet localized into Russian. However, users can choose any of the currently available 23 languages for the UI, no matter where they are located. That’s a critical accommodation that the market demands.

Internationalization and testing for the global win

Internationalization is the process of designing a product so that its code and functionality support localization—and Netflix gets this right. For example, Netflix’s team carefully designs on-screen keyboards for new languages so that they would be user friendly. Then they partner with Netflix’s linguists to test and gather feedback so that releases are bug-free.

The careful use of automation

Netflix automated critical stages of the workflow to cut down on manual file handling. In addition, their proprietary tools are both customized to their unique processes, and integrated with other tools that translators, project managers, and QC teams use, so that collaboration takes place within one system. Another key feature of their toolset is the ability to view context during translation, which is essential for creative content.

Also, you may think that Machine Translation (MT) was involved in translating such a large volume of content for a release of this scale. However, Jentreau said that they are only at the exploratory stages of MT, currently considering it for help content and as a measuring tool to evaluate translator quality. (Subtitles require a more human touch—it’s easy to get nuance and emotion wrong. Machines aren’t quite there yet.) Going slow and investigating thoroughly means that a strategy as important to a global program as MT will be deployed correctly to yield maximum benefit.

Humans at the helm

Netflix pulled off this grand-scale localization using translator manpower. However, what’s unique and powerful is their hybrid resourcing model: their in-house specialists manage teams and projects, and have the freedom to work with freelancers or external vendors—whoever they think can best handle the volume and content types. And languages for which they don’t have a specialist are sent directly to their vendor, who manages the projects entirely for them. It’s a complex matrix of internal program management, outsourcing to contractors, and vendors managing projects themselves. This takes advantage of the flexibility and scalability of vendors, the content specializations of freelancers, and in-company governance and quality management.  

Subtitling is the new black

A good portion of Netflix’s content to localize is subtitles and descriptions of their movies and series. Because of the nature of this content—creative, nuanced, highly cultural and local—human translation is in high demand. And it’s much more than converting content from one language to another: translating subtitles is a highly-specialized field. “It’s not as simple as doing text translation,” stated Renato Beninatto, one of the Globally Speaking moderators. “You need to have in mind the timing. You need to know how to summarize content. You need to be able to be concise and clear at the same time.” The rising interest in localizing voice and video content indicates that translators will keep very busy as only they can take on such volumes of creative content.

Iterate from data and feedback

The completion of the global release to an additional 130 countries doesn’t mean that their globalization team takes a hiatus. Jentreau explains that “We get a lot of data from the product. We can see how people use the product, what they watch on the product, and we get a lot of feedback this way. And the feedback we don’t get from the product used, we can get by going directly to the user and asking them about how they use the product and what they would like.” Improving their global offerings through new features, bug fixes, and enhancements based on user feedback will continue to delight customers, gain new ones, and just as importantly, retain the high level of market-specific customization that Netflix is known for.


Your localization program may not launch a product worldwide tomorrow, or ever at that grand of a scale, but the success of Netflix’s expansion certainly provides a lot of food for thought. So grab some popcorn and listen to the whole Globally Speaking podcast episode for even more interesting info about the Netflix Effect.