When you want to go global with your content, one of the first things you’ll have to consider is how to translate video-based content. 

A question we get asked a lot here at VoiceBox is: “Should I go for voice over or subtitles?” And it’s understandable – There’s so much information, advice and ‘how-to’ guides out there on all things digital – from supercharging your content’s global reach to complying with digital accessibility guidelines. That’s why it can be such a challenge to decide between voice over or subtitles when translating video content into other languages.

Our aim at VoiceBox is to make the video translation process easy to understand. So grab yourself a cup of tea and allow us to break it down for you.

Voice over vs subtitles: What you need to think about

So, how do you go about choosing between voice overs or subtitles?

We’re going to keep this guide simple. We’ve come up with a series of questions you should ask yourself before starting your project that will hopefully help you decide. In fact, if you were to call up the VoiceBox team and ask us our opinion on whether you should go for voice over or subtitling, they’re the sort of questions we’d be asking you!

What’s the purpose of your content?

This one’s the biggie. What exactly are you trying to achieve with your content and, most importantly, how do you want your audience to respond? This is the first question that you should be asking yourself before deciding on voice over or subtitles. 

For example, think about a perfume advert that is set to be broadcast globally. In these types of adverts, the dialogue is usually minimal. They instead tend to rely on beautiful visuals, such as models, landscapes and graphics, coupled with a compelling narrator. This type of advert aims to persuade and inspire. For these reasons, we might recommend a voice over as the best option to ensure the brand voice is maintained and to ultimately drive sales.

On the other hand, let’s say you have a HR training video that needs to be disseminated to offices internationally. These types of videos tend to be shot using actors or animation and will involve more dialogue. What’s more, since the videos are for internal use only, the budget may be more limited for this type of project than for a global marketing campaign. In this case, subtitling would probably be the best option, as it is far more cost-effective for this type of project. On top of this, viewers of this style of video – a HR training video – are probably more open to reading subtitles than those who are viewing advertising content.

Understanding the purpose of your content is the key to making the right choice for you.

What is your target market?

Another key question to think about is: What is your target market? Which regions and countries are you going to distribute your content to? This is because different countries tend to have different preferences when it comes to voice over or subtitles. For example, the Italian market would usually expect a foreign language film or TV series to be dubbed into Italian, whereas the Nordic countries have long used subtitles. 

It is also worth researching the literacy rate of the region or country that you’re targeting. If you aim to broadcast a TV ad to an area with lower literacy rates, then subtitles won’t have the same reach as voice over and you may be effectively wasting your budget.

When is your deadline?

The good news is that here at VoiceBox, we’re used to dealing urgent projects and lightening-fast turnaround times – and that goes for voice over and subtitles alike. In fact, some of our voice talent even boast their own home studios so that they can get to work on a project immediately! 

However, it is worth bearing in mind that voice over projects can generally be a longer process. There’s the selection of a voice over artist, booking studio time with recording engineer and the recording process itself to consider, whereas subtitling projects can be kicked off by one of our subtitlers right away. Sometimes, the best option for you depends totally on your timeline.

What’s the content of the video?

Subtitles tend to be a maximum of two lines. They will appear on screen in sync with the audio content and subtitle producers aim to keep them on the screen long enough for the audience to comfortably read them.

However, this could become complicated depending on the content of your video. You may have lots of quick dialogue or speech, which will mean that subtitling constraints won’t be able to translate everything. If this is crucial for your content, then voice over may be a better option. What’s more, if your video content contains a lot of  graphics and on-screen text, you should remember that this will also require translation. Subtitles could create a video that is text-heavy and difficult to read.

You should also consider how your video will be viewed. If the video is primarily aimed towards social media, then you’re likely to have more mobile users. Will subtitles be therefore too small to read, or will they obscure too much of the visual content?

What are your accessibility requirements?

You must also consider the accessibility requirements of your video content. If your video content is to be used internally, what is your company-wide policy on digital accessibility? Or if you’re due to broadcast content internationally, you may need to comply to digital accessibility guidelines dependent on region.

VoiceBox can advise on this, so get in touch for more information.

What is your budget?

Ah, perhaps one of the most important questions of all! In an ideal world, you’d choose the best approach for your content – regardless of cost. However, we understand that a project’s budget is often one of the major factors in deciding between subtitling and voice over.

What we believe here at VoiceBox is that you shouldn’t have to compromise. That’s why we offer competitive pricing and comprehensive services to ensure you get the best value for your money.

Why not tell us about your project and allow us to advise you directly?

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VoiceBox Blog Team