The Dubbing Boom in Latin America

A few years back, it seemed highly improbable that cable channels would modify their lineup in order to offer their content dubbed rather than subtitled. From some point in the late ‘90s until quite recently, people enjoyed series and movies in their original language, making it possible to appreciate the “natural version” of an episode or film, whereas they would be dubbed on public airwaves.

As of only a few years ago, large-scale dubbing wasn’t as common in Latin America as it was in Spain, where dubbing artists are part of the local “Star System” (in the field of dubbing, they’re known as “Star Talent”). Going back to its origins, the first conversions into Spanish were done in this very same European country, but the accent, the idioms and the expressions weren’t welcomed in Latin America. This cultural rejection generated the need to begin to create content regionally, making it more in tune with the preferences of consumers in the Americas. Mexico presented itself as an ideal candidate for U.S. movie production companies, at the same time imposing a variant of Spanish, neutral Spanish, which began to strengthen its roots to the extent that consumption of series such as those of Hanna Barbera, I Love Lucy and The Beverly Hillbilles increased. The same thing happened with Disney’s first animated films, and it’s worth noting that in late 1940, in Mexico and Argentina, it was prohibited to dub movies that were to be projected in cinemas, with the exception of films that were intended for children.

Coming back to the present, the proposal to do large-scale dubbing on cable channels started at the end of the last decade, with the success of certain channels of lesser relevance that offered their content dubbed into Spanish. Film Zone and MGM were the film channels that took the baton and experienced positive ratings outcomes, which led bigger channels such as Cinecanal and several HBO channels to implement the measure. Nowadays, even a channel like Sony, with loyal followers due to its being a bastion of broadcasting in the original language, has succumbed to this trend. First it was the non-prime time programming that ceased to be subtitled, and following the positive response they decided to implement it in several prime time series. The process was implemented in the latest series, as there was a strong rejection to dubbing in programs where the public was already familiar with the original actors’ voices.

Is subtitling experiencing a decline? Hardly so, as today’s generation is used to downloading series online only a few hours after they are broadcast in their country of origin, and so subtitles (albeit amateurish ones) come back into the equation, and thus a new generation has grown that is accustomed to seeing content in its original format. The jury is still out and only time will tell. However, at the moment dubbing seems to have the upper hand.