Blockbuster idea: Expanding markets by being multi-lingual

May 23, 2013

olenkapolakHere’s an intriguing idea for Hollywood’s movie moguls: What if every one of their theatrical releases could be experienced not just in English, but a dozen or more other languages?

That’s the idea being pitched by a Cambridge, Mass. startup called myLINGO, still in stealth mode. In addition to buying a ticket, moviegoers would be able to download the soundtrack in the language of their choice, using myLINGO’s mobile app on their phone. The company is currently discussing a price tag of about 99 cents per movie. And the co-founder Olenka Polak’s hope (which may prove unrealistic) is that studios will supply them with the alternate language tracks for free, as a way of expanding the appeal of their releases and selling more tickets. “We think that today, there are a lot of immigrants who are not in seats,” Polak says.

Polak says that the dialogue of most movies are recorded in French, Italian, German and Spanish, in addition to English, but for some blockbusters, as many as 25 different languages are available. (The alternate audio tracks are prepared for both theatrical runs in other countries and the eventual DVD release.)

For a demo, Polak started playing the Spanish version of “Toy Story 2” on her laptop. The prototype myLINGO app on her iPhone listened to the soundtrack for 20 seconds or so to figure out what part of the movie was playing, and when I put the earbuds in, I could hear Buzz Lightyear speaking in English, perfectly synchronized. The app checks in every few minutes with the soundtrack on the film or DVD, just to make sure it is still in the right spot. It’s easy to imagine how myLINGO could be useful not just in the cinema, but also at home, when the kids want to watch Pixar’s latest movie in English, but Grandma and Grandpa might appreciate it more if the dialogue was in their native tongue.MyLINGO seems to have struck on a powerful idea that could help the studios expand the appeal of their product with almost no additional investment, aside from working with theater chains to promote the availability of the alternate soundtracks. Polak tells me she has been having meetings in Tinseltown over the past few months. It’ll be interesting to see how the big Hollywood studios, not typically enthusiastic adopters of new technology, react to her pitch, and whether myLINGO’s app will soon be coming to a theater near you.

Experiencing the demo from myLINGO got me thinking: isn’t there so much more that every company could do to speak a second (or third) language in order to reach new customers?