Here's How Netflix Is Tackling Subtitle Fails

Update: April 28, 2017: Haven't heard back about your Hermes test results? You aren't alone. Even though Netflix originally said that applicants would hear back within ten days, it appears that the volume of people applying was larger than expected.
But don't despair — some people have started hearing back.
This piece was originally published on March 31, 2017.
Netflix recently developed Hermes, a proficiency test for captions translators. The goal? Find subtitle translators who understand the nuances of the English language. We do, after all, have over 4,000 idioms that make absolutely no sense to people who aren't proficient in American English. "Barking up the wrong tree," "beat around the bush," "break a leg," "hit the sack"...we say some pretty weird stuff.
The company supports over 20 languages — many of which aren't dubbed — so subtitles are how many foreign viewers watch films and TV shows that are originally in English. The point of Hermes, as Engadget reports, is to identify people who won't translate Rory Gilmore saying "Smashing Pumpkins" to "pumpkin purée" in French (a pretty perfect example, actually).
Currently Netflix outsources subtitle translation to third-party services, so it's hard to maintain an across-the-board standard of quality. In its post announcing the launch of Hermes, Netflix said it took a "Hollywood meets Silicon Valley" approach to solving this problem.
Hermes tests translators' ability to correctly "translate idiomatic phrases into their target language," finding translations that are "culturally accurate." After taking the test, each candidate is assigned an "H-Number" that designates their skill level. From there, Netflix determines what types of movies the translator is qualified to caption.
"Perhaps they consider themselves a horror aficionado, but they excel at subtitling romantic comedies — theoretically, we can make this match so they're able to do their best quality work," Netflix says.
Since Netflix launched Hermes about two weeks ago, thousands of people around the world have already completed the test (covering every represented language). "We’re quickly approaching an inflection point where English won’t be the primary viewing experience on Netflix, and Hermes allows us to better vet the individuals doing this very important work so members can enjoy their favorite TV shows and movies in their language," according to the statement from Netflix.

More from Tech

R29 Original Series