Media ProductionChristian Media

Globalizing Your Media Means Localizing Your Media

Whenever I travel internationally, I’m always surprised to find that when watching American produced religious programming, the vast majority of programs do nothing related to local audiences.  In other words, the program open and close, structure, and even commercial spots were the exact same as the program that had been broadcast in Cleveland, Atlanta, or Tulsa.  It goes without saying that creating a commercial spot with an American phone number and a price in dollars is going to fail when its broadcast in Russia, South Africa, or Bolivia.  And yet, major media ministries do it everyday – wondering all the while why they don’t seem to get a response.

First Rule – Make sure international viewers can contact your organization easily and buy your products or donate to your organization in their local currency.  I carry dollars in my pocket, not Rubles or Pesos.  Likewise, a viewer in Bangalore carries Rupees, not dollars.

And it goes deeper:  “Cultural sensitivity” is critical is getting your message across in other cultures and countries.  In the Christian world for instance, too many American believers think Indian Christians worship in choir robes, and sing classic hymns with an organ playing in the background.  But Christians in other countries adapt their worship to the styles, customs, and methods that are meaningful to them.  As a result, we need to understand that and respond with our programming.

Second Rule – Do more than just have your program sub-titled or translated.  Think about customizing the program itself.  Certainly it will take time and money, but the meaning and connection will be far more powerful.  Perhaps better yet, instead of simply broadcasting your weekly or daily program into multiple countries with no changes made, think instead about periodic TV specials, that are completely customized to people groups around the world.

Years ago, I had the opportunity to be a producer on a series of TV specials produced by the Billy Graham Association.  Not only was Billy’s sermon translated into multiple languages, but we divided up the world into people/language/culture groups, and completely re-structured each version with local interviews, music, and features shot in regional languages and featuring locally known personalities.  In the end, it created a far greater response than simply broadcasting a typical American version of Billy’s program.

Major secular networks realize that having localized programming matters.  It’s time Christian program producers got the memo.

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  1. Your second point is why I believe a lot of mission work has been ineffective.
    As we officially globalize everything, it’s required to acknowledge the entire audience. We create all these formulas to be a ‘successful Christian’ when we can’t formulate God. I can’t wait to see what comes out of the next decade because pressure creates the best artwork!

  2. Way back in 1979 I started lip-sync dubbing the JESUS film into 21 languages. I had been using a stereo VCR to make lip-sync translations, using translators who had some dramatic experience, I.e. Actors and directors, (never literature translators!). This is a dramatic movie and the voices should sound like film actors. The translators would record their own voice, one line at a time and re-translate and re-record until each line was in perfect sync and sounded believable. Then move to the next line of dialogue. When the whole film was done we would watch it and listen to the translation while watching the lips. The extra time required was more than made up in the recording studio. Often the first ‘take’ was perfect.
    With actors as with translators it was important that they had not been away from their homeland too long, or they miss out on changes or start sounding like an ‘American’ or wherever dubbing was taking place. A whole track had to be redone sometimes because one voice was bad or a wrong word was used. Even pronunciation had to be considered. In one African country the word for Holy Spirit was the same for Muslims and Christians but pronounced differently. I asked Crusade to make that decision; Muslims were their target.

    What Directors should watch out for when shooting a globally targeted film: Actors standing too far apart for some cultures; sound effects of strange birds or bugs that distract listeners in many cultures that are more attuned to such sounds; tight lip shots that later make lip sync dubbing difficult – use quick cutaway to another person listening; adapt music track to local culture – London symphony as in JESUS film sounds good to us but not in Africa, Latin America, etc. Can be replaced by professionl keyboard stylist maybe with guidance from a musicologist to achieve a continental sound.

    Now that films are streaming online to all 7 billion people on Earth, we need to really pay attention to the Big picture.. I became excited one day when I found one of my Christian films dubbed to Pashtu and streaming.. That’s an Afghan/Taliban language.

    1. Thanks Ray. Always good to get advice from someone in the trenches. Calling us to pay attention to that level of detail is solid. The smallest things can sometimes cause the biggest problems when it comes to cultural differences. Thanks for posting!

  3. Americans that greatly offend people in other cultures are simply unthinking and usually fail to consult people like Phil or even traveling teachers like me. My friends in Russia fill my ears with examples of unconscious insults like giving out free Bibles to big groups when all of them were gobbled up by the Mafia despite local Christians begging the Yanks not to do it.

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