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Delivering a Global Talk Show: The Innovation Behind Chelsea

Delivering a Global Talk Show: The Innovation Behind Chelsea

Last week, we launched a talk show on Netflix -- a first in so many ways. Chelsea is the first talk show to premiere around the globe - in over 190 countries - at the same moment in time. And it’s the first talk show conceived for Internet TV, allowing members to watch whenever, wherever and on whatever device they want. Unlike the world of the linear TV talk show, we’ve created a show without boundaries -- both geographic and content. Chelsea presented a number of challenges for our teams, in terms of thinking about how to best deliver a show of this nature: a tight turnaround time, adapting a user interface that caters to freshness while still keeping consumer control at the helm, all while ensuring Chelsea’s blunt and bold sarcasm isn’t lost in translation. Here’s a closer look at some of those from a few of our experts:

Translating Humor Globally
Tracy Wright, Director of Content Operations, Netflix

“You can say anything, it’s Netflix!” ~ Chelsea Handler

Yes, it’s true, Chelsea can say anything on Netflix. Anything. Knowing that, how do we make sure it’s understood globally - the way she meant it? And how do we accomplish this while also maintaining high quality translations in 12 hours?

First, we had to find great translators who knew how to take American comedy that is edgy and often profanity-laced and translate it to another language while preserving cultural relevancy and tone. We tested over 5,000 linguists to find the 200+ translators we have covering the 20 languages in which Chelsea will be released. The test included subtitling clips from Chelsea’s Uganda Be Kidding Me, Orange is the New Black and House of Cards, so we could see how well they interpreted vulgarities, slang, US-centric political terms and idioms such as “she’s as tough as a $2 steak” into their respective languages.

Second, because of the quick turnaround of 20 languages in the 12 hours allotted for translations, we had to build a workflow that allows us to create and share one master English template with our translators from Mecca, Saudi Arabia to Sao Paulo, Brazil. To do this, we use respeaking technology to create a live transcription of the dialogue that is then edited and turned into an English master template once the episode is finalized. That template is distributed for translation that night and delivered back to us the next morning.

Lastly, for each language, we also have people live streaming the episode while it’s taping so they can get a jump on identifying tricky phrases, cultural references or public figures for the translators -- the goal is to give translators information as quickly and smoothly as possible so they can research ahead of time for maximum efficiency. References such as “Edumacate Me”, the DMV, Xanax, Snapchat, Huggie Jeans and play on words like “Chelsea Grammar” and “anyways” aren’t globally understood, so flagging these in the template ensures that we give enough context to get the most locally relevant translation to achieve the desired impact.

Chelsea is the first talk show to launch around the world in 20 languages at the same moment in time. We believe these innovations in our localization work will help Chelsea find new audiences across the globe and we can’t wait for the linguistic challenges she will throw our way.

Creating An Intuitive Experience
Jennifer Nieva, Director of Product Innovation, Netflix

Just as Chelsea and team adapted a talk show for the world of streaming, the Product Innovation team at Netflix worked to adapt the member experience for a talk show - a first for everyone. As we reimagined our user interface design across TVs, tablets, laptops and phones, we asked ourselves -- and our members –- how will people want to consume this show? Will they immediately watch the episode their friends are talking about? Will they watch the most recent episode as they unwind at the end of the day? Or, will they binge through a couple weeks of episodes in one sitting? While there were many new questions and unknowns, we were confident that if we focused on creating an intuitive experience, it would make it easy for different types of viewers to enjoy the show however they wanted.

In creating our initial designs, we observed two sets of expectations converging -- expectations around watching talk shows generally and expectations around watching a series on Netflix specifically. In the world of talk shows, recency matters. People tune in to see what an exciting guest will say that night, and they expect it to be easy to find the most recent or most talked-about episode quickly if they’re watching after it’s aired. That presented an interesting challenge as, on Netflix, members are accustomed to starting from episode one -- the beginning of a story. They know that they can catch-up from the very first episode of a series at any time, and often enjoy binging through many episodes at once. Watching a serialized show on Netflix compares to reading a novel from Chapter 1 to the end. A talk show is more akin to the way you skim a magazine, where you ultimately read the article that catches your eye.

To highlight the most recent episodes, we reversed the presentation order, placing the most recent episode at the head of the line. After watching the most recent episode, we suggest the next-most-recent episode, and so on. If, however, a member decides to start watching from the inception of the show, we also support binging through Chelsea in the opposite direction. Simply put, if you’re enjoying the show, we’ll make it easy for you to to keep watching it, regardless of where you chose to start.

We’re also downplaying episode numbers for the talk show. Episode numbers convey a strong sense of order, and there is no right order to watch Chelsea -- only the order that you enjoy the most. In our testing, when we moved the episode numbers aside, the guests, topics, and imagery for the episode became more noticeable, and people chose the episode that looked the most interesting to them.

Another challenge for our team was developing clear and compelling ways to communicate the show’s freshness to members. In the case of a talk show, which is inherently based on current events and social issues, it is imperative that we clearly communicate to members which episodes are brand new on the service and when new episodes are arriving (every Wednesday, Thursday, Friday throughout the year). Although many members will discover and enjoy Chelsea episodes weeks or months after they’ve launched, we fully expect others to dive into episodes as soon as they arrive.

While we don’t know the extent to which freshness and episode ordering will impact how members choose to watch Chelsea, we have developed a member experience that combines learnings from traditional talk shows with uniquely Netflix insights -- to create what we think will be an intuitive, easy and completely new way to enjoy a talk show.

Life in the Fast Lane: From the Studio to Your Device in < 3 Hours
David Ronca, Director of Encoding Technology, Netflix &
Vinod Viswanathan, Director of Media Cloud Engineering, Netflix

Just a few years ago, producing all of the ~60 encodes (video compressed for Internet delivery) for a 1-hour title took several days, and encoding failures were frequent. The long delays and unpredictability of the encoding system made it difficult to manage projects, creating additional difficulty for shows we licensed for Day-After-Broadcast where we had as little as 24 hours to launch on Netflix. With the rollout of our parallel encoding workflow in late 2012, we reduced the ingest and encode time to about 7 hours. This performance improvement was first put to the test with season five of Breaking Bad where we had the opportunity to premiere each episode in the UK the day after it aired in the US. Since the initial rollout, we reduced the time for this process to about 2.5 hours.

Enter Chelsea.

The Chelsea challenge was to reduce the ingest and encode times to about 30 minutes, giving us just 15 minutes to inspect each source and about 15 minutes to encode all audio and video streams needed for production. To deliver 30-minute encodes, we coordinate the encoding work on thousands of machines in the Amazon cloud to execute the large parallel workflow. The content is broken down into 30-second chunks, and each chunk is processed in parallel. The recent work the media engineering team did to leverage less busy AWS servers during off-peak hours allows us to achieve the expedited process associated with this show efficiently. Once the encodes are completed, the content deployment infrastructure makes sure they are propagated globally through the Netflix Open Connect network in under 2 hours.

These updated processes have allowed Netflix to change the way innovative content reaches a global audience, while delivering the same great video quality.