Culture Matters:

Content’s Cultural Conundrum

by Teresa Phillips | Jun 14, 2021

Citing the growth of global content distribution opportunities, the Hollywood Reporter recently wrote about the increase in local-language film adaptation. The piece raises several important points we at Spherex have known for some time, e.g., how important culture is to content, how culture doesn’t always translate well (if at all), yet when done properly can generate significant profits for the content owners. Rather than relying on traditional “subs and dubs” to export foreign content to consumers worldwide, production companies are starting to create local and culturalized versions of movies and tv shows to better align with consumer preferences.

Culture matters because people are different. Language, geography, customs, religion, politics, economics, social and/or class structure all have significant impact on how people perceive and relate to stories, images, sound and even the words used in a title. The success of exporting content from one country to another depends more so on cultural proximity than on geographic vicinity or language similarity. Cultural proximity ensures that audiences can understand the characters’ dialogue, motivations of behavior, and body language in addition to following the storyline.

Exporting or importing good stories or shows is nothing new. Since the 1970s, television shows have been adapted for local audiences worldwide, especially soap operas, game shows and other unscripted programming. Go back decades and find examples of foreign films or TV shows that were given the “Hollywood” treatment and became hits in the U.S. and worldwide. One example is the 1985 French film, “Trois Hommes Et Un Couffin” (Three Men and a Cradle) that became 1987’s top-grossing film “Three Men and a Baby.” It cost $11M to make and grossed over $168M worldwide. The Australian talent show “Popstars” became the U.K. talent show “Pop Idol,” which became the American talent show “American Idol” and eventually was exported to over 15 countries. The British game show “Who Wants To Be A Millionaire” was localized and released in 114 countries reaching every continent except Antarctica and is still being produced 24 years later.

Kelly Wright, an adaptation specialist with Israel’s Keshet International, says the difference now is that “with the rise of global streamers, any fan can check out the “twists and suspense” of the original without having to wait for a remake.” A shot-for-shot remake isn’t going to attract an audience anymore, especially one with access to the original. The industry’s challenge is to make the adaptation or original story timely and attractive to an audience by understanding and writing for their culture. A story that lives in their culture is what makes it special.

The good news is that technology and resources are available to studios and production companies to help them understand the cultural issues that can affect the success of their titles in the global marketplace. Spherex has extensive knowledge of cultures and regulatory requirements covering nearly every territory on the planet and has created technology to identify cultural sensitivities before they become cultural missteps.