Dubbing a success story

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(Written By AK Bijoy  in 2005. Bijoy today works for a news wire service)

Posted on : 27 Mar 2005 10:20 pm

Kishore Bhatt is a happy man!

In 2001, the 50-year old gave up a secure job in State Bank of India for a career in dubbing.

At that time, it looked quite a gamble: the switch from one of the country‘s top financial institutions to something which has an uncertain entertainment industry piggybacking it. There were many who wanted to correct him.

Now, as I speak to Bhatt, his ten year old kid proudly lists out names of the characters Bhatt lends his voice to: Beakman, Batman, James of the Pokemon series, Samurai Jack, Uncle in the Jackie Chan animation series…the list goes on.

For Bhatt, the timing was right. This period saw international players including Discovery, The History Channel and National Geographical Channel entering the Indian market. Then, Walt Disney‘s arrival in three Indian languages has ensured lot of work from the kids‘ channel segment. We have many more international networks knocking the door as well in approximately Rs. 150 million TV language dubbing industry.

The evolution

As per industry estimates, the total dubbed content was of approximately 2,400 hours in the 2003 fiscal. In the current fiscal, Disney alone has 1800 episodes of dubbed content in Telugu and an equal number in Tamil. The channel has already dubbed 1650 episodes of content in Hindi. Taking all the other players into account, the growth pattern definitely shows an upward curve.

Ellie Lewis

"The volume of dubbed content in all segments including broadcasting has gone up. English to Hindi dubbing has gone up over the last two years," says UTV Post Production and Dubbing GM Indranil Ghosh.

The industry scenario

Dubbing vendors are riding on this wave. UTV, which has adubbing business unit, recorded a volume of 733 hours in this period. In the quarter ended December 2004, the company has done 461 hours of dubbing.

Other leading dubbing vendors include VGP, En Sync, Mainframe and Sound & Vision. The boom has given birth to a large number of dubbing organisations, big and small. There are at least 25 small outfits in Mumbai itself. Industry experts find it difficult to give an accurate assessment of the size of the market because of the fragmentation.

Indranil Ghosh

"It is a very fragmented market. Apart from a handful of big players, we have many smaller players to take into account," says Ghosh.

Industry analysts value the market size at an approximate Rs. 150 million with UTV in the lead. The company earned Rs. 34 million from dubbing in the 2003 fiscal and has already touched 24 million for the six months period ended 30 September 2004.

Who is dubbing?

Nick, which is present in India since 1999, launched its dubbed Hindi programmes last year. From May 2004, the channel started airing 18.5 hours of its daily programming in Hindi. UTV‘s Hungama TV has recently acquired a host of new Japanese and French animated series.

"With Disney‘s full-fledged entry with a lot of dubbed content, competition has heated up on language dubbing. The effort is now to put up a strong dubbed content library," reasons Mainframe Software Communications head Ellie Lewis. Mainframe‘s clients include Disney, Warner Brothers and HMV Saregama.

Cartoon Network and Pogo have been making all its programming available in Hindi in the Northern and Western parts of India. Cartoon Network has already got a strong dubbed library since they had been dubbing content to Hindi since the last six years.

Anshuman Misra

"As part of our localisation strategy, Cartoon Network began enhancing its Hindi dubbed programming on-air from 2001. Since then, all the Hindi comprehending parts of the country enjoy Cartoon Network programming in Hindi," says Turner International India MD Anshuman Misra.

It is not only kids‘ channels which have resorted to dubbing for market penetration. It also include The History Channel, National Geographic Networks Asia which dubs it international content to Hindi and Tamil and Discovery Channel which dubs to Hindi. Among Hindi channels, apart from general entertainment channels which have dubbed programme slots, we have Hindi movie channels Set Max and Star Gold dubbing Hollywood movies to Hindi.

Down South we have Star Vijay, Jaya TV, KTV, Teja TV and Kiran TV exploring the potential of dubbed Hollywood movies. The mythological genre has also been making its contributions. Production house Creative Eye has dubbed its popular mythological shows Om Namah Shivay and Shree Ganesh in Tamil, Telugu and Malayalam. The two shows together put up a volume of 354 hours of dubbed content in each language.

Ghosh says in the regional sector, South is the biggest consumer of dubbed content. "There, dubbing happens mainly in Tamil and Telugu. Hindi and English get dubbed into Southern languages. Other than that, most of the market is concentrated in Delhi and Mumbai," he says.


Industry analysts sight the lack of tough entry barriers as the main

reason for such a fragmented market. The convenience of outsourcing the infrastructure in cheaper rates makes it easy to launch a dubbing outfit.

"If you are really smart, you won‘t need a single penny as investments. You approach international clients who give you up to 45 per cent payments in advance. And you roll back the balance amount," says En Sync head Ashwin Saksena.

The studio rent ranges from Rs. 25,000 to Rs. 5,00,000 depending on quality. And if you want to set up your own equipments instead of outsourcing the infrastructure, then equipment costs will be approximately Rs. 8,00,000 and then real estate and other miscellaneous costs have to be taken into account. Ghosh says a full-fledged state-of-the art dubbing set up may cost up to Rs. 5 million.

The market equations

The easy availability of dubbing vendors is actually de-activating the boom effect in terms of money. The theory "more work and so more money" doesn‘t really apply here. The congestion has eventually brought down the rates.

"The competition is taking rates down. A lot of undercutting is happening in the industry," points out Sound & Vision president Leela Roy Ghosh.

Industry experts opine that, even in this fragmented scenario, bigger players are not looking at consolidation by acquiring smaller players because they have their hands full.

"They are not threatened by the smaller players at all. They take bulk of the deals happening. Big networks prefer corporate level players like UTV. The small players make it big by improving their standards or just disappear in the long run," says Saksena.

Returns from a dubbing assignment depend on various factors including number of character and number of episodes. Rates differ from channel to channel and it also depends on the budget allocated. "The cost differs from project to project based on the kind of execution," says Leela Roy Ghosh.

The rates

Industry estimates put the dubbing cost for a one hour TV programme in the range of Rs. 45,000 and Rs. 55,000. Dubbing cost of TV movies ranges from Rs. 75,000 to Rs. 1,00,000. VCD/DVD dubbing of English movies to Hindi costs up to Rs 1,00,000 while the dubbing cost of an English movie for theatre stands in the region of Rs. 3,50,000 to Rs. 6,00,000.

Ghosh finds the pricing levels of both episode dubbing and film dubbing equally lucrative. The ratio UTV recorded between episode dubbing and film dubbing in the last fiscal was 65:35. Ghosh says there is an increase in episode assignments.

"Episodes have gone up. This is because volume of broadcasting work went up," he says.

VGP‘s D‘costa prefers episodes to films. "Work from serials is consistent. Films are sporadic," he says.

According to industry analysts, the charges get reduced up to 50 per cent when broadcasters get into bulk deals with dubbing vendors. But in the case of movies, bulk deals happen very rarely.

"A channel may be acquiring 50 Hollywood movies a year, but it won‘t know what title is reaching them in what time. So channels can‘t commit," says Saksena whose En Sync has Star Gold in its clientele.

Saksena feels the channels hold an edge in the bargain game. "Some occasions, they won‘t be ready to pay more than Rs. 1,00,000 even if it is a one hour movie or a two and a half hours movie. Normally vendors don‘t bargain much. If you can prove your worth by excelling your job, you can demand a premium of up to 15 per cent," he says.

While Sun TV and Vijay TV get their Hollywood flicks dubbed from dubbing vendors, Jaya TV directly acquires dubbed versions of Hollywood movies from agents.

"We buy it in bulk, about 30 movies at a time. This saves time and cost," says business head Balaswaminathan.

Does the quality suffer?

Senior dubbing artist from Mumbai, Pushpa Saksena feels the quality of dubbing depend upon the budget allocated to an extent. She says low budgets affect the vendor‘s capability to hire quality professionals.

"When the budget prevents dubbing vendors from having quality dubbing artists, they compromise for average artists who will naturally charge less. So the quality will be missing," she says.

""Ususally the budgets are low. The client knows that vendors work at any cost. But finally, it‘s the client who is using the final product which may not be up to the mark. He accepts it because he has no knowledge of what a good dub is all about. All he cares is that he is getting it in his budget and people are watching it," says Lewis.

"I don‘t think that the issue of doing inferior quality to save cost is correct at all," defends UTV‘s Ghosh. "In fact we have the highest of quality checks both at the client level as well as at internal levels to ensure that we deliver top quality work. Our clients; who are mostly international have international benchmarks which we need to adhere to."

Broadcasters, while denying this trend, insist that the dubbing quality is ensured through expert quality checks. "We have quality control in place. Apart from voice, this takes care of expression and mixing," says Nick India director business & operations Pradeep Hejmadi.

Pushpa Saksena, who puts Disney on a high pedestal as the most quality conscious channel, speaks about the need for a standard rate card for dubbing artists. She says the Mumbai-based Association of Voice Artists (AVA) is currently looking at launching such a system.

Dubbing organisations having in-house studio facility normally keeps sound recordists and script writers in their pay rolls. Dubbing artists are available in the market on freelance basis. The present payment structure for dubbing artists depends upon seniority and expertise. It starts at Rs. 200 and ends in the region of Rs. 2000 for a half-an-hour episode.

Bhatt says the pay was better earlier. "In 1993 my seniors used to earn Rs. 3500 for a 30 minutes assignment. We are doing the same work for a lesser amount now," he says.

Dubbing as a career

Celebrity dubbing, who is common in the international arena, is making its presence felt in India now. Mainframe had Shahrukh Khan dubbing for Disney‘s The Incredibles recently. Salman Khan was supposed to dub Hanuman for an animation movie, but later the assignment went to Mukesh Khanna.

Leela Ghosh agrees that it is tough to get good dubbing artists. She says, though there is a lack of good training institutes, dubbing as a career is opening up.

"Dubbing aspirants will have to learn on the job since there are not many training institutes around. We do encourage people who approach us. People aspiring to be actors also turn to this field," she says.

UTV keeps having auditions for different types of voice. "We add the suitable ones to our talent bank," says Indranil Ghosh.

Dubbing is pursued as a part-time career as well. 23-year old Saumya Daan, who has Spiderman and Archies to his credit, works as a customer service assistant with Jet Airways. "The working schedule in dubbing is really flexible. So I am able to devote my spare time to dubbing," he says.

Saksena points out the lack of pure Hindi speaking voice over. "While I was in UTV, we actually moved dubbing to Delhi in search of pure Hindi speaking people."

He also stresses on the need for scriptwriters who knows how to employ the local lingo as and when the context demands it. "Most of the time people used to just translate. Now there is demand for transcreation."

The road ahead

D‘costa finds the future of language dubbing in India unpredictable. "People might get fed up of dubbed programmes. Anything can happen."

Ghosh feels foreign content will be the key for the industry‘s survival. "Opporunity lies in foreign content. More work will come from production houses abroad or broadcasting companies abroad."

Saksena is upbeat. He feels that with India having low English literacy levels, foreign channels have to localise their content and do a lot of language dubbing. "International players will have to rely on language dubbing for better market penetration. So the industry is here to stay."

Again the question of consolidation comes into focus. The easy availability of service helps the clients to dominate the bargaining. Thus, the rates go haywire in spite of the heavy workload. This diminishes the financial status of a growing market. In the long run, this might lead to the formation of an unsophisticated and fragile industry. Buying out the smaller players will be one practical solution before the established players to avoid any such complications.

UTV: the big pioneer

UTV's dubbing business primarily caters to movies, television serials, documentaries and animation films. Walt Disney, Discovery, Star TV, Nickelodeon, National Geographic Channel (NGC) and The History Channel figure in its clientele. UTV is offering dubbing services to the Walt Disney channels in Hindi, Tamil and Telugu for serials and feature films. According to the agreement with NGC Networks Asia, UTV's services include translation and transcription of the original English scripts into Hindi and Tamil for both dialogues and lyrics and also for dubbing.

The technology

Globally there are lads of software and hardwares used for dubbing and music recording, but there are 2 softwares that stand out.

1) Pro Tools (runs on a Mac & PC)

2) Nuendo (runs on PC)

Both of these are freely and widely available in India. Pro tools is the more sought after while Nuendo is more for home or small/cheaper setups.

UTV uses Protools or Nuendo with a combinations of analog or digital mixers and beta recorders and players. These are the most commonly used technology in the country today. En Sync uses Pro tools in mumbai and Nuendo in Chennai.

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