Ringing in the Changes with Content Localization for TikTok

Jan 18 2021 VITAC
The TikTok logo displayed on a cell phone with the words TikTok underneath the logo

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New Year’s is a time for breaking old habits and trying new things – and the world’s most downloaded app was completely on board with this sentiment on the eve of 2021. TikTok planned to ring in the New Year with the platform’s first longform original program – an unforgettable countdown loopback of the top TikTok moments of 2020 – played out on the official TikTok accounts across 80 countries and in 14 different languages. But with just six weeks to prepare the content and a Cinderella-style deadline across multiple time zones, this project would be a challenge for the production and content localization teams.

Gathering the Troops

TikTok turned to B17 Entertainment, a full-service production company and leaders in multiplatform programming with millennial appeal, to produce the special and manage the content deployment for the first-of-its-kind project. 

“This was TikTok’s first foray into producing a whole program and in a time-based rollout to different territories,” explains Ben Waldorf, vice president of post-production and operations at B17 Entertainment. “They’d come to us with a laundry list of things that would be great to do, and we’d work together to figure out what was possible.”

The NYE special was hosted by social celebs Brittany Broski and Lil Yachty and featured live performances and special appearances by some of the biggest names in music and entertainment as well as creator sketches, ‘Year on TikTok: Top 100’ trend explainers, and special segments for social causes. But the ambitious production plan left just one week for localization – including Christmas day. 

“This project was versioning, transcription, and translation heavy, so we quoted the project with several vendors,” says Waldorf. “Take 1 [now VITAC] were the only ones who said, ‘no problem’ and didn’t have any resistance to the parameters of the project. The other companies couldn’t deliver the full scope of the ask – [VITAC] was the only one that was eager and able.”

Challenge(s) Accepted

Timing wasn’t the only challenge that this production presented. Because the special was going to be shared across 80+ territories including countries with strict censorship requirements, multiple versions of the show had to be created, transcribed, translated, and subtitled. Ultimately, VITAC was responsible for localizing 25 different versions of the show into 14 languages. 

TikTok designed the rollout plan, dictating which version needed to go out to which of their multiple localized official channels at what time, to ensure that as many people as possible were getting the countdown to midnight experience in their local time. TikTok also facilitated the backend technical methodology, but there was one major hurdle to delivery.  

TikTok’s platform does not currently support embedded caption files – so each unique version had to be delivered with titles burnt into the original video master. This had significant implications for the localization process. Whereas a normal captioning workflow would use low-res video references, and the final output would be delivered as a small SRT file, VITAC now had to change its processes to enable the final delivery of multiple, large, high-resolution video files. The VITAC team was also left with even less time to work on the content as the schedule had to accommodate sufficient time to upload the high-res content once localization was complete. 

“My biggest technical concern going into the project was that we’d have to have unique video with titles for each version,” explains Waldorf.  “But [VITAC] took care of it all and gave us a finished product that was ready to go.”

Counting Down to Midnight

VITAC relied on their global network of in-territory translators, working around the clock, across time zones to transcribe, translate, and subtitle TikTok’s New Year’s Eve special. In addition to devising a workflow to manage the delivery of burnt in subtitles on the original video masters, the team also created a customized subtitle template to ensure that the captions were ideally placed for vertical video viewing within the app. The project was managed by VITAC with a dedicated account manager available to B17 Entertainment 24/7. 

“When we started reaching out to vendors, we knew that this project was a tall order, but [VITAC] knocked it out of the park” Waldorf concludes. “They took a very difficult task with no time to do it and they surpassed all expectations.”

Get in touch to discuss your localization needs with a member of the VITAC team.