“Translating Stranger Things” showcases Netflix’s recent commitment to dubbing its “global originals” into different languages in order to make its content more accessible to subscribers in over 190 countries. Before presenting a scene which transitions from dialogue in English to clips of dubbed dialogue in nine different languages, the video announces in printed text, “When language isn’t a barrier…great stories have the power to travel the world.” Netflix promoted the global release of Stranger Things as a case study of its ability to market content across geographic and linguistic borders. According to data released by Netflix, the dubbed versions of the show were most popular in countries where dubbing is a central element of film and television viewing cultures, led by Italy where 84% of viewers watched the version dubbed in Italian.
In addition to embracing dubbing as part of their localization strategy in markets such as Italy, Germany, and Spain, Netflix has also begun to produce English language dubs of Netflix shows originally filmed in other languages. A recent Variety article revealed that Netflix now shows English dubbed versions of “foreign originals” as a default setting in the US. During interviews with Netflix, US subscribers expressed a preference for subtitling over dubbing, but Netflix launched an experiment to challenge this conclusion. After streaming a dubbed version of the French show Marseilles to a group of US viewers, they learned that viewers who watched the dubbed version were more likely to watch the entire series. For Netflix, once again, data are destiny, overturning longstanding assumptions about viewer practices and tastes.
The expansion of Netflix’s dubbing practices, documented for viewers after the closing credits of many Netflix shows when a long second credit sequence lists the voice actors for each dubbed language, raises questions about the future of translation in the era of streaming. Netflix’s HERMES test enables the company to use algorithms to assess and index the work of translators who create subtitles in over twenty languages, but in many markets, including the US, dubbing may be what gives Netflix “the power to travel the world.”