Haaretz: The startup that auto-dubs movies

September 24, 2023

Most viewers can’t stand subtitles but dubbing is an expensive luxury and takes ages. This startup says it can be done in minutes, at low cost.

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Some people watch foreign movies with subtitles. That’s the norm in Israel, for instance. Other countries, such as India, Russia and China, prefer their screen entertainment dubbed.

Dubbing is labor-intensive and costs a lot. The Israeli startup VideoDubber is working on automating the process, starting however from the subtitled product, not from scratch. There are limits.

The process starts with having a film (say, in English) and a file with subtitles in the target language (say, Hindi). The customer uploads the film and subtitles file to the Videodubber server.

The company’s software now matches the two, and puts out the film automatically dubbed into the target language, at a fraction of the cost of manual dubbing.

“Non-automatic dubbing can cost $1,000 an hour or more. Our prices range from $5 to $10 per minute, so the cost is a function of the movie but in any case our cost is a small fraction, especially if you consider that we enable a range of voices. Japanese dubbing for instance run very expensive – $24 per minute, but on our platform, it costs the same as English,” says Rossano.

At this point its software can automatically dub subtitled movies into 35 languages and dialects, claims Boaz Rossano, VideoDubber’s CEO. The startup uses synthetic voices but it has a wide range to tap, with more than 120 in its “bank”.

“It doesn’t sound like Google Translate,” claims Rossano – it sounds natural and human, with one codicil. For the time being the company is confining itself to non-dramatic productions that require neutral tones, such as documentaries, talk shows, and lifestyle pieces for instance on travel. Not telenovellas, for instance. That could come later, though.

Its software is clever at getting intonation right based on sentence structures, explains Rossano, and the company is working on developing its software for the next stage – intonation based on the original actors on the movie. “Say the actor is angry or sad – we can get that right in the dubbed version,” he says (this is part of where the company’s patent lies).

The company is also working on distinguishing between male and female roles (on the meantime, the genders are manually tagged in the text file). “We have developed algorithms and are working on the code,” Rossano says.

Founded “in a garage” in 2011 and with one patent with 24 claims already preapproved by the PCT in Geneva, the company is gearing up for product launch and foresees selling its service to broadcast companies around the world.

Recently VideoDubber entered into an agreement with RR Media (formerly RRSat), which will distribute the auto-dubbing product to broadcast bodies around the world. RR Media says it foresees giants such as Sky and the BBC using the Israeli startup’s auto-dubbing technology to dub their content within minutes rather than months.

To the complete article by Amitai Ziv and Ruth Schuster