Viewership 2.0:

New forms of television consumption and their impact on audiovisual translation

By Alice Casarini (University of Bologna, Italy)


The evolution of the new media has led to enormous changes in television production and consumption. As a consequence of the proliferation of TV networks and online file-sharing tools, television shows are now tailored to suit specific, dedicated niche audiences with a significantly higher proficiency in program reception. “Viewers 2.0” subvert the traditional construct of TV spectators as couch potatoes by actively exploring fictional worlds and appropriating and remediating contents through cultural practices of textual poaching such as fan fiction, fan videos, or fan translation. This paper analyzes the impact of this new level of engagement among Italian viewers, who are now questioning the previously unchallenged dubbing process and showing an increasing openness towards different solutions such as fansubbing (the distribution of amateur subtitles shortly after the original airing of each TV show episode). While this alternative may not appeal to the Italian audience in its entirety, in that it requires an active linguistic effort, the growing number of people who join fansubbing communities and proficiently appraise AVT strategies on forums and social networks signals a substantial development in the preferences of Italian viewers. Besides its significant sociological implications, this evolution also calls for a reassessment of AVT practices, since the immediate availability of costless subtitles generates tough competition for professional solutions, which are usually better from a technical perspective, but often also delayed and less accurate in terms of each show’s specific identity and intra- and intertextual references. This paper will thus explore the effects of the new forms of television reception on the AVT industry, analyzing the impact of the response of the Italian audience to the transatlantic acquisition of the recent hit shows How I Met Your Mother, New Girl, and The Big Bang Theory and positing a future synergy between AVT professionals and knowledgeable fansubbers.

Keywords: cult television, producers, social viewing, fansub

©inTRAlinea & Alice Casarini (2014).
"Viewership 2.0: New forms of television consumption and their impact on audiovisual translation"
inTRAlinea Special Issue: Across Screens Across Boundaries
Edited by: Rosa Maria Bollettieri Bosinelli, Elena Di Giovanni & Linda Rossato
This article can be freely reproduced under Creative Commons License.
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1. Introduction

The thriving development of new media and the popularization of technological tools for content reception and production have blurred countless boundaries in contemporary society. Amateur photographers can achieve quasi-professional results with a basic point-and-shoot camera (and perhaps one of the enticing Shoot like a Pro! guides to digital photography); film-making neophytes need little more than a camcorder and video-editing software to start dreaming of Hollywood, and self-publishing is booming on the ever-expanding Kindle market. The availability of cheap or even cost-free tools to create and spread personal content is no guarantee of quality; more often than not, it actually implies a loss thereof, since information overload tends to inhibit the retrieval of content that is actually relevant, genuine, or well crafted.[1] Nonetheless, as Clay Shirky remarks, “the transfer of […] capabilities from various professional classes to the general public is epochal, built on what the publisher Tim O’Reilly calls ‘an architecture of participation’” (2008: 17). The dissemination of agency privileges through the Internet and other technological means has had an unprecedented socio-cultural impact that cannot be ignored in any endeavour to rethink the creation and the worldwide distribution of cultural products.

Television consumption has undergone a particularly significant evolution in the recent history of entertainment. Prior to the Internet era, television viewers were perceived as passive receivers of texts that had been fully packaged for them and that did not require any action on their part. While moviegoers, theater fans, and music lovers were assumed to engage in the active pursuit of their interests (ideally by somehow responding to the visual and acoustic stimuli they received, but at the very least by leaving the house to reach the objects of their passions), television viewers were traditionally represented as couch potatoes, as inert individuals sprawled on their sofas, surrounded by empty soda cans and popcorn bags, relying on their remote controls to minimize motion, and staring goggle-eyed at the small screen for days on end. (Jenkins 2006: 64; Gwenllian-Jones and Pearson 2004:  XVI; Richards 2010: 181). While the casual, effortless absorption of television programs may still be a favorite way to unwind, a newer approach to television watching has emerged over the past two decades, culminating in the recent shift from the concept of “end-users” to the idea of pro-active re-mediators who are highly proficient in program appraisal and directly interact with the shows they watch, appropriating and reworking them through the integration of their own experiences and desires. As Gwenllian-Jones underlines,

immersive engagement with the fictional world depends on uniting what is conveyed by the text with the reader’s own experiences and knowledge, facilitating a sense of vicarious presence in the imaginary environment. […] It is not a passive experience; the reader must play an active part in creating and sustaining its integrity, drawing on memory as well as imagination to reinforce its perceptual substance. (2004: 84)

For television audiences, user agency is also expressed through the conscious selection of the programs worth watching. Bianca Bold observes that “contemporary consumers of audiovisual media [no longer] stand at the very end of the production chain” and are thus to be seen as “empowered consumers” who shape their own viewing experience (2012: online). Television spectators no longer depend on network choices for their daily consumption; thanks to DVDs and to the Internet, they are now able to organize their own palimpsests, which are entirely based on their preferences and their time management needs. Rather than being served menus that others have compiled for them, they shape their own television diet à la carte, which also requires a deeper knowledge of the programs being offered in order to make conscious, rewarding choices: the ability to select one’s own programs implies that the responsibility of a satisfying viewing experience now falls on the consumer, rather than on the network. On the other hand, the empowerment and the consequent fragmentation of the television audience prompts producers to create better-quality, more engaging products, to which consumers respond with a higher eagerness not only to explore the shows as they are, but also to participate more actively in the creation and the expansion of the fictional universes portrayed in them. Veronica Innocenti and Alessandro Maestri underline that the popularity of a program is “no longer measured only in terms of ratings, but also in terms of [its] ability to trigger the viewers’ reactions, stimulating their critical re-elaboration” (2010: online)[2], thus stressing the need for producers to address smaller participatory audiences.

This evolution has had an enormous impact both on television production and on program translation for foreign markets. This paper will analyze the development of a type of audience that could be defined as “viewership 2.0,” to mirror the common usage of the term “web 2.0,” indicating the numerous, interwoven changes that have shaped the post-millennial Internet around the ideas of participatory culture, of user expertise, and of collaboration and interaction within virtual communities. Viewers 2.0 are thus a new generation of film and television audience characterized by both higher analytical skills and a pro-active approach, which they use to improve and amplify their viewing experience through technological devices that transcend the television medium itself. Viewers 2.0 also display a far stronger awareness of their own collective strength: their increased proficiency and their Internet-enabled global connectivity endow them with a decisional power which would not have been conceivable in previous eras and which can effectively withstand many unwanted impositions from above. This paper thus contends that neither television producers nor audiovisual translation providers can afford to overlook the emergence of this powerful networked public: thanks to its pandemic diffusion and its higher skills, viewership 2.0 is often able to play by the same rules as television creators and distributors and even to beat them at their own game if necessary. As Jenkins et al. highlight:

audiences are making their presence felt by actively shaping media flows, and producers, brand managers, customer service professionals, and corporate communicators are waking up to the commercial need to actively listen and respond to them. While many content creators are struggling with the growing prominence of such grassroots audience practices, an array of online communication tools have arisen to facilitate informal and instantaneous sharing. (2013: 2)

Considering that audiences are still the condicio sine qua non for the existence of the television industry, it becomes imperative for networks and dubbing studios to acknowledge the power of the new public and possibly channel it into a cooperative approach that would benefit all parts.

2. Aca-Fans, Textual Poachers, Social Viewers, and Produsers

As popularized by Henry Jenkins (1992; 2006; Jenkins et al. 2013) and Matt Hills (2004; 2010), the past decades have witnessed a gradual collation of fandom practices and research activity, both inside and outside academia. Indeed, the passion and the dedication behind true fandom are not unlike the fervor and thirst for knowledge that drive academic research, and the cultural coming-out of the so-called aca-fans or fan scholars (depending on whether their primary interest lies in academic pursuit or fan appreciation) had a strong effect on the requalification of products like television shows, comics, and videogames, both with the rise of related academic disciplines (such as new media studies or fandom studies) and in terms of the general reception of these types of commodities. In many cases these developments have triggered a virtuous cycle: viewers gradually assimilate the dynamics of cultural production[3], forcing creators to craft higher-quality entertainment products, but also engaging in their own re-mediation of those same texts. Television is a particularly fertile ground for the practices of textual poaching, through which viewers construct their own meanings from the texts they receive from producers, re-encoding their interpretation into works of fan fiction, fan art, and fan videos. The idea of cultural poaching originates from a model theorized by Michel De Certeau in 1984 and based on the concept of the active appropriation of cultural products created by others:

[The reader] insinuates into another person's text the ruses of pleasure and appropriation: he poaches on it, is transported into it, pluralizes himself in it. […] Words become the outlet or product of silent histories. The readable transforms itself into the memorable. [...] A different world (the reader's) slips into the author's place. This mutation makes the text habitable, like a rented apartment. It transforms another person's property into a space borrowed for a moment by a transient. [...] Reading thus introduces an "art" which is anything but passive. It resembles rather that art whose theory was developed by medieval poets and romancers: an innovation infiltrated into the text and even into the terms of a tradition. (1984: ebook)

De Certeau’s definition originally referred to readers, yet its core essence can also be applied to consumers of different cultural products. The process of collaborative meaning construction is becoming more and more evident as the new media provide an ever-increasing number of opportunities for different fandoms to actively engage with texts and to rework the original products from their own perspective, often challenging or expanding their original connotation, as Jenkins observes:

De Certeau’s “poaching” analogy characterizes the relationship between readers and writers as an ongoing struggle for possession of the text and for control over its meanings. [...] What is significant about fans in relation to de Certeau’s model is that they constitute a particularly active and vocal community of consumers whose activities direct attention onto this process of cultural appropriation. (1992: 24-28)

The active role that fans play in the meaning-making process has led to the circulation of the portmanteau terms prosumer and produser. Prosumer was coined by futurologist Alvin Toffler in his 1980 volume The Third Wave to indicate professional, producer, and pro-active consumers, referring to a user base with a higher level of expertise, actively participating in cultural production (Carini 2009: 5). Axel Bruns (2007: online) then suggested the term produser as a post-millennial recontextualization of prosumer to stress the higher agency frequently displayed by individual users of contemporary media texts, as highlighted by Denzell Richards:

fans actively assert their mastery over the mass-produced texts which provide the raw materials for their own cultural productions and the basis for their social inter actions. In the process, fans cease to be simply an audience for popular texts; instead, they become active participants in the construction and circulation of textual meanings. (2010: 185)

For television audiences the process of appropriation, reworking and recirculation of cultural meaning mainly operates through practices of social viewing, which involve the usage of a so-called “second screen” (usually a smartphone or tablet) displaying extra content synchronized with what is being broadcast on television. Social viewing allows fans to share their viewing experience in real time through posts on social networks, status updates, and the dissemination of reworked texts such as re-captioned images or critical comments.

The more the audience shows its desire to engage in meaning re-negotiation, the more producers tend to cater to its needs, in that active viewers are also more likely to purchase ancillary material such as merchandise or DVD box sets to make the most of their program experience. Thus television texts are no longer constrained within their medium of origin: authors and producers apply strategies of transmedia storytelling, spreading their fictional worlds over different platforms (Richards 2004: 182), to which the audience responds by both solving the puzzles and adding their own interpretations, which are also conveyed through a variety of channels. Zaccone (2011: 241) identifies a “multitask[ing] audience [operating] via the multi-devices that characterize the way in which audiovisual products are experienced.”

The television experience now entails much more than mere watching, branching out in a whole range of activities aimed at a full immersion in the fictional universe, which ends up permeating real life. Pane (2005: online) illustrates a famous example orchestrated by the producers of the acclaimed adventure/mystery drama show Lost:

During the airing of the penultimate episode of season two, ‘Three Minutes,’ a commercial aired promoting a fictional company that exists within the Lost mythos: the Hanso Foundation. At the end of the commercial a phone number was given. Adamant viewers who called the number were eventually given access to a website, Over the course of the ensuing summer hiatus, fans hunted down advertisements with clues to find the next website littered with background information pertaining to the show, culminating with a real world directive: to travel to the 2006 ComiCon, a massive convention promoting comic books and other cult interests, and attend the Lost panel conveniently moderated by the executive producers/writers of the show. When fans arrived they were treated to exclusive clips of the upcoming third season. However, what truly broke the fourth wall was that during a question and answer segment at the end of the panel, an actress who portrayed one of the characters in the viral marketing videos appeared in character and verbally accosted the producers for their supposed real life involvement with the fictional Hanso Foundation.

The success of this sort of campaign (Pane reports an attendance of over 50,000 devotees) bears witness to the explosion of fandom practices over the past two decades. Several previous shows had already enjoyed a dedicated audience that was willing to bring their fictional worlds to life through different means (most notably the Star Trek franchise[4]), yet the new modes of television consumption have magnified opportunities and tools for fan interaction to an unprecedented degree, which has then determined a higher investment in the type of entertainment defined as cult television. Cult shows are designed to appeal specifically to viewers that wish to establish an osmotic relationship between specific televised worlds and their own lives. In spite of the relative diffusion they might achieve (for instance, Lost did achieve record shares and a positive critical reception), their target is necessarily smaller than the general public, who would not be willing to participate in its entirety. Matt Hills (2010: 73) explains this sort of natural selection by juxtaposing the concepts of cult and mainstream:

[Cult] is not hugely popular, not culturally omnipresent, not common-place and common knowledge. There is something “special”, something at least a little bit “underground” or even transgressive about cult media, cult TV included. What this frequently amounts to is a sense that “cult” television isn’t for everybody; only suitably intelligent, discerning audiences “get it”.

The ability to decode cult texts involves consistent watching, a detail-oriented viewing approach and a memory that functions well enough to store and process the countless references to previous episodes, to other parts of the cult puzzle spread over different media, and to a considerable amount of required background knowledge. For instance, Lost created a complicated system of alternate realities with clues scattered throughout its 121 episodes; the eighth season of Buffy The Vampire Slayer only exists as a graphic novel; and the recent hit show Once Upon a Time (created by the authors of Lost) transports entire fairy tales into contemporary reality. The most evident examples of cult texts tend to belong to genres such as mystery/horror, science-fiction, and drama, yet many recent comedy series also display clear signs of cult dynamics, as is the case with Suburgatory, which openly lampoons other suburbia-based movies and shows; with Community, a clever meta-series replete with film references and television caricatures (for instance, the entire episode 3x10, “Regional Holiday Music,” is a parody of the popular musical show Glee, which boasts its own cult fandom of singing and dancing enthusiasts); or with The Big Bang Theory, a science-imbued situation comedy focusing on the lives and misfortunes of four CalTech geniuses, which will be analyzed further on in this paper.

Being able to “get” a cult show equals having access to a privileged dimension which not only tolerates but openly encourages a full interaction with the audiovisual text and its “network of ancillary textuality” (Barra, Penati and Scaglioni 2010: 23) and promotes a constant osmosis between the fictional universe and the real world. As highlighted by Veronica Innocenti and Alessandro Maestri (2010: online), “cult shows do not import reality into the televised fictional sphere, but they rather export the latter into the daily lives of their audiences”. Their goal is not just to prolong the duration of the show itself, but to make its fictional universe become as real and as long-lasting as possible, in order to create a customized and enhanced reality in which they can feel at home. The sense of belonging that originates from cult practices often constitutes the core of the entire viewing experience; referring to the so-called trekkies or trekkers[5], Geraghty (2010: 134) highlights that:

the fans’ relationship with the fictional text – that which is created in the collecting of merchandise, buying of repackaged DVDs, attending conventions, interacting with networks and communities on the Internet – is more important than the actual text.

As previously mentioned, cult fans are usually eager to take this relationship to the next level and go public, deconstructing and reconstructing their own meaning from what Carini (2009: 28) defines as “testo espanso”, an “expanded text,” sharing their re-negotiated products with other fans. It is thus evident that cult television practices require a communal dimension to achieve full completion, in that each single re-mediation affects (and is affected by) all the other producer-promoted texts and user-generated contents. The Internet is obviously the preferred vehicle for fan creations, providing a re-socialization and a “relocation of television consumption in public spaces and through mobile technologies” (Barra, Penati and Scaglioni 2010: 23). Social networks like Facebook and Twitter and second-screen devices such as smartphones and tablets allow for simultaneous watching independent of time zones and of the other activities one might be carrying out at the same moment. To participate in discussions at “the biggest coffeehouse on earth” (Tapscott and Williams 2006: 40), time is of the essence: once that texts are made available over the Internet (albeit mainly through the so-called cyberlockers, illicit file-sharing clients or streaming websites), viewers from all over the world feel the pressure to literally keep up with the Joneses, or rather with Americans, in order to avoid being “left out” or risking unwanted spoilers. This phenomenon is particularly evident in television consumption, since serialized products are devised to lure viewers into a regular relationship that requires dedication and consistency. Providing proof for each act of viewing has thus become a crucial part of the game for the cult television fandom, leading to the rise of numerous social viewing platforms such as Miso and TvTag (formerly GetGlue). These applications are fully integrated with the leading social networks and can be used from either a computer or a smartphone to check in to specific episodes and movies; regular check-ins will earn viewers virtual rewards like badges or stickers, which can then be advertised through Facebook or Twitter to brag about one’s commitment (while simultaneously providing free publicity for the shows themselves). For instance, TvTag users who check in to The Big Bang Theory fifteen times on fifteen different days will unlock the sticker dedicated to Leonard, one of the show’s geek protagonists, which comes with an appropriate description: 

Congratulations, you've unlocked Leonard's sticker! With an IQ of 173… and a social life, you're an archetypal anomaly. Keep upping your IQ with The Big Bang Theory, now on 5 Nights a Week! Share this one proudly. It's from our friends at Warner Bros. Television.

As is visible from this example, stickers are designed to appeal to each show’s specific target audience: in the case of The Big Bang Theory, one can postulate an ideal viewership that treasures both geek culture and its social aspects. The show constitutes a meta-cult text in which the protagonists frequently organize their own science-fiction marathons, resulting in viewers watching them watch Star Trek or Battlestar Galactica, reading Green Lantern comics or playing Halo or World of Warcraft. As the above description illustrates, stickers are usually sponsored by the respective television networks, which have soon acknowledged the marketing potential of the entire operation: users are thus invited to “share [the Leonard sticker] proudly” as it is from Warner Bros Television. Zaccone (2011: 264) identifies social viewing practices as the future of both television consumption and marketing strategies:

Real-time engagement, game-like dynamics, rewards, acknowledgements and reputation within communities, together with sharing practices through Social Networks, constitute the heart of Social TV, which promises to be the system that will prove most valid over the next few years, both from a technological point of view and for marketing purposes. [… There will thus be] a sort of middle [ground], a “playground” in which marketing strategies and user activities meet, contributing to the evolution not only of marketing plans for audiovisual products, but also of the concept of text - […] a middle ground governed by the renegotiation of textual production practices and of the promotion of audiovisual products.

Social media also provide more ways to expand the viewing experience and to blur the boundaries between reality and fiction. A truebie (a fan of the vampire show True Blood) recounts her elation upon receiving the following welcome messages from the Twitter accounts of other True Blood role-players impersonating fictional characters from the series:

@EricNorthman: I see you are following me. I will offer you but one warning -- I would not try anything rash if I were you. I'm still hungry.
@SookieBonTemps: Thanks for followin' this waitress. Look forward to readin' your thoughts 140 characters at a time.
@PamVampTB: You’re in my vault.
It’s hard to explain why these messages were exciting for me. I guess it’s because they’re in character, and it’s a new experience to be acknowledged by a character and have the opportunity for dialogue. It’s funny… because I know they’re [role-players] and fans like me… but messages like this welcome newbies to become participants in this part of the True Blood narrative. (2011)[6]

Social marketing activities directly coordinated by producers and networks thus blend with other practices that are entirely user-governed and that usually entail a high degree of textual poaching. Besides show-based role-plays, a whole plethora of user-generated content circulates over the Internet, from round-robin fan fiction stories, co-written by multiple authors, to fanvids that piece together favorite scenes with an appropriate soundtrack, and from trivia competitions to crossover memes such as the viral Star Wars parody in which Darth Vader asks Luke Skywalker and Leia Organa: “So you guys want to know How I Met Your Mother?, referencing the popular CBS situation comedy (which will be analyzed in chapter 3) and joking on the well-known family tie that is revealed in episode V of the movie saga (The Empire Strikes Back)[7]. The variety and the diffusion of user-generated texts attests to Shirky’s view that “everyone is a media outlet” (2007: 55). Former passive users have thus become active produsers and constitute a powerful entity that cultural gatekeepers need to “[factor] in during production” (Booey 2009: 28).

3. Effects on audiovisual translation

The changing Italian audience serves as a case study to illustrate how the main characteristics of viewership 2.0 also underlie the fans’ perception of the temporal and ontological hiatus between the US broadcasts and the translated versions. For instance, the popular television blog Serialmente takes a clear stand in its manifesto:

We are used to following shows in their original version, concurrently to their US airing, without having to wait for Italian networks to decide what is worth showing us (namely what receives high ratings here), when to show it (always too late) and above all how to show it (i.e. with translations that are often too free); we do not like waiting longer than our overseas cousins and we like to decide for ourselves which shows are worth watching and which are not. But above all we like discussing them.[8]

Since they are already familiar with the plots and characters of their chosen shows, many Italian viewers already know what they want in terms of translation and are willing to fight for it or even create it themselves if official channels fail to cater to their needs - which they often expect to happen, even before actually watching the dubbed version. A deeper knowledge of their favorite series also results in a stronger expertise in dubbing-related issues. Consider the following appraisal of How I Met Your Mother, which had been initially introduced as a pre-primetime filler on the mainstream network Italia 1 and whose title had been butchered into …E alla Fine Arriva Mamma (meaning “along came mom, eventually”[9]). Amateur reviewer “Andrea D.” from Serialmente analyzes the reasons behind the show’s limited success in Italy (notice that he refers to the series with its English title, which is becoming common practice among the growing cult audience):[10]

I think How I Met Your Mother functions through a very sophisticated, deeper sort of humor which is predominantly “American”; even if its screenwriters do a great job, much is also due to the cast’s talent, above all the extraordinary Neil Patrick Harris (Barney). Even when each word is translated literally, the effect in Italian is just not the same. And if the sheer idea of dubbing tones down the effect of each well-acted show, in this particular case the dubbers’ performance is really poor: an inexpressive rendition that is always dull and soporific, without any changes in tone. Whoever took care of [the translation] was true to vocabulary, but less true to the show’s spirit, and the result is a series that has lost its edge. Viewers stumble on it, watch it briefly and switch to a different channel. (2011: online)

Not just amateur critics volunteer accurate analyses of dubbing strategies: regular viewers actively participate in dubbing forums, discussing voice-casting choices and offering their own suggestions, comparing tones of voice and even attempting to find solutions for translational inconsistencies. For instance, How I Met Your Mother’s Barney often repeats his mantra “Suit up!”, trying to invite his friends to don a classier attire in order to court girls. Comic relief originates not only from the repetition of his catchphrase, but also (and even more so) from the variations on the original sentence, such as his attempts to convince his best friend to build an igloo in Central Park (“Snow Suit Up!”[11]) or to dress up as his wingman on Halloween (“Flight Suit Up!”[12]). As had happened with NBC’s sit-com Friends a decade earlier (with Joey Tribbiani’s trademark greeting “How you doin’?”), Barney’s catchphrase was translated rather inconsistently. Even though this choice was probably due to lip-synching issues, Italian viewers still noticed the differences and offered their own alternative solutions:

As for possible adaptations for “Suit up!”… how about using ellipsis? Instead of using a verb, it could be turned into an assertive exclamation like “Abito da sera” [dinner suit]. This way there would be no variation problems: for instance, “Snow Suit Up” could be translated as “Abito da neve” [snow suit]. (2010: online)[13]

Facebook even has its own group against the dubbing of the show, “Odio i doppiatori italiani di How I Met Your Mother” [I hate How I Met Your Mother’s Italian dubbers], whose users offer comments on the characters’ original voices and inflections:

Marshall is really cool in the original version, especially when he sings! In Italian he has lost everything… And what about Robin? One of the most amusing things is her Canadian accent!! And Barney… they simply killed him!! Of course HIMYM is not successful in Italy! The very title made me roll my eyes (E alla fine arriva mamma… they couldn’t have picked anything worse)…(2009: online)[14]

While some of these fans may even manage to recognize different English accents, a large majority will still only be able to perceive the different effects of the original version and of the dubbed one, but might not possess enough linguistic skills to understand finer connotations, culture-specific jokes or even Anglophone dialogues as a whole. The true revolution in television consumption in Italy over the past few years is thus represented by the fact that these users both acknowledge the existence of a gap between the source text and the target text and actively pursue the former in spite of the language barrier, refusing to settle for the latter, which they consider to be inferior in quality, or at least incomplete. The most common solution used to tackle the linguistic obstacle consists in resorting to fansubs (fan subtitles), amateur translations volunteered by fans with higher language skills and freely retrievable from dedicated websites (Italy’s most popular fansubbing communities are ItaSA - Italian Subs Addicted and Subsfactory).[15]

Aside from being instrumental to the undeferred consumption of American audiovisual products, fansubs are also appreciated because of their ability to convey character personalities and cultural references in a more complete way. Consider the following example from the pilot episode of the situation comedy New Girl. Jess, the quirky female protagonist (played by charismatic Zooey Deschanel), moves in with three young men after a bad break-up with her live-in boyfriend. At the end of the pilot episode, which centers on her ineffectual attempts to move on, her new roommate Schmidt tries to cheer her up, but does so in his own ladies’ man style, which costs him yet another dollar bill in the “douchebag” money jar the other roommates have set up for him.


Original version

Italian dubbing

Back translation

ItaSA fansubs

Back translation


Listen, Jess, I know you’ve really had a rough go of it and I just want you to know that... I mean.. for me, at least... no matter what... I would still totally do you.

Senti, Jess, so che stai passando un momento difficile e voglio che tu sappia che... beh, quanto meno da parte mia... per qualsiasi cosa potrai sempre contare su di me.


Listen, Jess, I know you’re really going through a hard time I just want you to know that... I mean.. for me, at least... you can always count on me for anything.

Ascolta, Jess, lo so che stai passando un brutto periodo e voglio solo dirti che... insomma, non so gli altri... ma sappi che in ogni caso... io mi ti farei sempre di brutto.

Listen, Jess, I know you’re really going through a hard time and I just want to tell you that... well, I don’t know about the others... but no matter what... I would still totally do you.


Oh, that’s so sweet.

Oh, sei così dolce!

Oh, you’re so sweet.

Oh, ma che dolce.

Oh, that’s so sweet.



Davvero, io ci sarò sempre!

Really, I’ll always be there for you!

Sì, nessun problema!

Really, no problem at all!







The Italian adaptors decided to tame Schmidt’s suggestion into an actual friendship offer, thus betraying his whatever-I-can-get attitude and rendering the rest of the dialogue meaningless, in that his dubbed remark may sound cheesy, but could not be classified as douchebag talk.

An even more blatant annihilation of character identities occurs in the dubbed version of The Big Bang Theory, as is evident from the following dialogue excerpt example from the pilot episode, “The Big Bran Hypothesis.” Leonard invites attractive new neighbor Penny (on whom he has developed an instant crush) to use his and Sheldon’s shower while hers is broken; Sheldon thus inquires about Penny’s possible reaction to Leonard’s Star Wars toiletries.


Original version

Italian dubbing

Back translation

ItaSA fansubs

Back translation


Sheldon: Do you think this possibility will be helped or hindered when she discovers your Luke Skywalker No More Tears shampoo?

E credi che questa ipotesi andrà in meta quando lei scoprirà che Gocce di Seta e Miele è il nome del tuo shampoo?


Do you think this possibility will score a try when she discovers your Silk and Honey Drops shampoo?


E credi che questa possibilità sarà aiutata o ostacolata quando scoprirà il tuo shampoo Luke Skywalker Niente Più Lacrime?


Do you think this possibility will be helped or hindered when she discovers your Luke Skywalker No More Tears shampoo?



Leonard: It’s Darth Vader shampoo. Luke Skywalker’s the conditioner.

Fusa e Coccole è lo shampoo. Seta e miele è il balsamo.


It’s Purring and Cuddling shampoo. Silk & Honey is the conditioner.


È lo shampoo di Darth Vader. Luke Skywalker è l’emolliente.


It’s Darth Vader shampoo. Luke Skywalker’s the softener.


The names of the famous Star Wars characters would have been transparent for most Italian viewers (even for those who have never watched the saga). ItaSa’s fansubbers chose a foreignizing approach that maintained these references (in spite of the incorrect usage of the term “emolliente” (which refers to soothing medications or fabric softeners). The dubbing team did resort to the correct equivalent for hair “conditioner” (“balsamo”), yet their decision to replace the references to Darth Vader and Luke Skywalker with fake, saccharine brand names does not only obliterate any references to geek culture, the key ingredient in the show, but also adds a slight homosexual undertone which is entirely absent from the original version. The first eight episodes of the series are full of similar substitutions and generalizations; yet while pre-Internet users would only have had the choice between watching a highly adulterated show and switching to a different channel, the Big Bang Theory fans decided to take the matter into their own hands and openly protested against what they perceived as poor, adulterating translational choices, which eventually led the dubbing company Post In Europe to change the whole dubbing team from episode 1x09 onwards. This unprecedented event in the history of Italian AVT is a manifest sign that users have learned how to appropriate the codes and strategies of media production, translation, and distribution and that producers cannot afford to ignore their newly acquired skills, but should rather focus on harnessing them to respond to the new demands of viewers 2.0.

4. Conclusion: “Use the Force, Luke.”

Will Brooker provocatively analyzes the re-mediation potential of the Star Wars fandom in terms of using the Force, “the creative energy that the fans […] channel into their appreciation” of the saga (2002: XV). Given the developments explored in this paper, Brooker’s metaphor could be expanded to equate the new audience itself with the Force in the Star Wars cosmology - a ubiquitous power which “surrounds us and penetrates us [in this case, the television world] and binds the Galaxy together,” as Jedi Master Obi-Wan Kenobi explains in the first chapter of the original movie saga, Episode IV - A New Hope (George Lucas, 1977). Without an audience there would be no television industry altogether, and the new generations of viewers have provided unmistakable proof of their full awareness of their power. The most evident example of this is the immediate response to the shutdown of sixteen streaming and file-sharing domains (including users’ favorites MegaVideo and MegaUpload, which boasted over 50 million visits per day). On January 19th, 2012, the group of “hacktivists” (hackers / activists) known as Anonymous hacked into the websites of the US Department of Justice, the FBI, the Recording Industry Association of America, and the Motion Picture Association of America, among others, openly claiming responsibility for the attack through their Twitter account “YourAnonNews”: “The government takes down Megaupload? 15 minutes later Anonymous takes down government & record label sites. Expect us.”

Aside from its legal and financial implications, Anonymous’ action also signals a radical revolution in the Internet audience’s perception of itself, as Tiziano Toniutti (2012: online) illustrates:

 [Anonymous] is the ripe fruit of the multimedia generation, who has developed a new awareness of its power and uses it to react against a world that it perceives as ancient and that hinders the birth of new categories of thought, of the market, of society. Anonymous is thus no Robin Hood giving back to the poor that which the Sheriff of Nottingham wants to take away from them. It is a social structure determined by technology, capable of intervening on the digital infrastructures on which today’s world is based. It is an empowerment tool for contemporary generations, a tool that people have never possessed in such a form and which such a strength.

Not all bottom-up reactions are necessarily as massive and as threatening as Anonymous’s attack, yet the collective power of viewers 2.0 can still have a strong impact on television consumption and on AVT practices, as demonstrated by the effects of the protest of the Big Bang Theory fans illustrated in the previous section. The mighty fandom/Force could thus cause great damage when misused; yet while program creators and distributors seem to have begun gauging the power of the new viewership several years ago, AVT providers have only started to recognize and address the issue in the past three years. Bianca Bold (2011: 15) summarizes this recently developed awareness: “fan communities’ sense of immediacy has been pushing the commercial market to deliver translated audiovisual media faster”, lest an increasing number of fans turn to alternative, non-profitable viewing options. Had the AVT industry continued to ignore what Annalee Newitz (qtd. in Innocenti and Maestri 2010: online) calls the viewers’ “right to experience the cultural ‘otherness’” underlying their favorite shows, it would probably have unleashed the dark side of viewership evolution, risking the overturning of professional dubbing and subtitling practices by means of costless amateur solutions – death by fansubbing, so to speak. Yet for AVT providers the increased amount of substantial countermeasures against delayed and poorly adapted dubbed versions (such as the higher use of fansubs and the open protests) represented an actual, tangible threat of financial loss that proved far more effective than the “phantom menace” of a conjectural, unquantifiable viewer dissatisfaction, to extend the Star Wars allegory.

AVT researchers and professionals are thus beginning to acknowledge the fandom/Force as a powerful ensemble and to explore the valuable potential it may have when channeled appropriately. Micol Beseghi (2011) highlights the mutual influence between fansubbing and the prominence of American TV series in Italy:

the popularity of [shows like] Lost, Grey’s Anatomy, House MD, Desperate Housewives, Gossip Girl, and Glee has contributed to the success of fansubbing in Italy, [yet] the practice of fansubbing has [also] helped amplify the success of [these] TV series.

This comment emphasizes the three fundamental developments that AVT providers should take into consideration when reassessing their practices to deal with changing audiences that are far more proficient and demanding than ever before. First of all, timing is crucial for viewers 2.0 in dubbing countries, who want to follow their favorite shows together with their American counterparts; secondly, this newly voiced need entails a higher willingness to resort to subtitles, which now boast a wide circulation outside official channels; and last but not least, subtitles have become a valuable tool for the popularization of the shows themselves. Fansubs are thus changing the way subtitles are perceived in Italy: the previous conception of either a fancy trinket for the linguistic elite or a clinical aid reserved for hearing-impaired people is now giving way to the idea of an effective tool to reach a deeper cultural understanding and to minimize the hiatus between the original US airing and the local circulation of audiovisual products. Several Italian networks have begun to exploit this new openness towards subtitling with a successful outcome: following up on MTV’s initial experiments with subtitled American shows, Fox Italy has started to broadcast subtitled episodes of hit shows[16] one or two days after their US premiere, implementing them with a dubbed version that is made available within a week. Many of the channels in the pay-TV Sky package (including Fox itself) also offer the opportunity to set language and subtitle preferences, as if watching a DVD, which is also a viable solution to address the needs of the new public by respecting its desire to be in charge of its viewing experience. This last aspect should not be ignored: whether adopting strategies to leave more room for subtitles or choosing to provide a higher-quality dubbing, networks and AVT providers need to acknowledge the fact that viewers 2.0 know exactly when and how they want to watch imported television. It can be extremely dangerous to ignore this newly developed proficiency, but can also be turned into a highly advantageous tool to understand audience demands. Since it would be hard for translators to acquire a thorough knowledge of all the shows on which they work, companies might consider harnessing the expertise of the fan community. Following the example of the subtitling company Sub-Ti, who hired two highly skilled fansubbers through their “Fans and Subs” contest in April 2011 (Di Giovanni and Spoletti 2011), dubbing studios could also recruit particularly knowledgeable fans as temporary consultants, turning them into a sort of adaptational Jedi knights. The easiest, most effective solution might actually be imprinted in the menace itself: that is to say, “Use the Force.”


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Main audiovisual texts

How I Met Your Mother. Craig Thomas and Carter Bays. CBS, 2005 – present. Television

Lost. J.J. Abrams, Damon Lindelof, and Jeffrey Lieber. ABC, 2004-2010. Television.

New Girl. Elizabeth Meriweather. Fox, 2011 – present. Television.

The Big Bang Theory. Chuck Lorre and Bill Prady. 2007 – present. Television.

True Blood. Alan Ball. HBO, 2008-present. Television.

Star Wars Episode IV – A New Hope. Dir. George Lucas. Perf. Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher. Lucasfilm, 1977. Film.


[1]For instance, Naughton illustrates how “Kindle self-publishing […] is metamorphosing into a new kind of lucrative spam.” Naughton, J. “Now anyone can ‘write’ a book. First, find some words…”; The Observer, Sunday 26 June 2011, available at [url=][/url], accessed January 18, 2012. Clay Shirky also observes that “the media landscape is transformed, because personal communication and publishing, previously separate functions, now shade into one another. One result is to break the older pattern of professional filtering of the good from the mediocre before publication; now such filtering is increasingly social, and happens after the fact” (2008: 81).

[2] Unless otherwise specified, all translations from Italian into English are my own.

[3] For instance, viewers realize how the lifespan of contemporary shows is affected by ratings in a much faster way than before the fragmentation of television watching. Italian fans of the 2011 ABC show Once Upon a Time voiced their concern regarding a slight drop in the total number of viewers between episodes 1x08 and 1x09, but were also able to reasonably find reassurance in the fact that 1x09 had been broadcast at the same time as the Golden Globe Awards and that ratings had not wavered anyway. See [url=][/url] for the full post.

[4] The first example of large-size, collective fan action is “Save Star Trek,” the massive 1967-68 letter-writing campaign that deferred the cancellation of Star Trek – The Original Series.

[5] The Star Trek fan base.

[6] See [url=][/url] for the full text.

[7] Irvin Kershner, 1980. Non-fans of the saga can find the following explanation (preceded by a “spoiler” warning) on any Star Wars website: Darth Vader / Anakin Skywalker is the father of both Luke and Leia.


[9] The title also echoes the Italian translation of the movie Along Came Polly, E alla Fine… Arriva Polly. Based on the widespread dislike for the translation E Alla Fine Arriva Mamma, starting from season 3 the show has been broadcast with its original title. The DVD box sets bear both titles.

[10] For instance, viewers frequently refuse to call the movie Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind with its poorly translated title Se Mi Lasci ti Cancello, (“If you leave me, I will erase you”).

[11] Episode 1x06, “Sweet Taste of Liberty.”

[12] Episode 1x06, “Slutty Pumpkin.”

[13] (posted 30/09/2010)

[14]!/group.php?gid=43435367857 (posted 21/01/2009)

[15] For an analysis of fansubbing in Brazil, see Bold (2011).

[16] Famous examples include the Lost series finale, Glee, and Terra Nova.

About the author(s)

Alice Casarini teaches EN > IT translation at the University of Bologna in Forlì (former School of Modern Languages for Interpreters and Translators) and English Language at SSML Carlo Bo in Bologna, Italy. She holds a PhD and an MA in Audiovisual Translation (2014 / 2008), an MA in European Languages and Philologies (2007), and a BA in Foreign Languages and Literatures (2005), all of which from the University of Bologna. She has also studied at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, the University of Paris VII, Imperial College London, and Brown University in Providence (RI). Her research focuses on the perception of American adolescent culture through the dubbing and fansubbing of television series aimed at teenagers (1990-2010), on the evolution of the Italian audience and on the impact of the new media on television production and consumption. She is also a professional translator specializing in YA literature and in videogame localization, which she researches as a side project.

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©inTRAlinea & Alice Casarini (2014).
"Viewership 2.0: New forms of television consumption and their impact on audiovisual translation"
inTRAlinea Special Issue: Across Screens Across Boundaries
Edited by: Rosa Maria Bollettieri Bosinelli, Elena Di Giovanni & Linda Rossato
This article can be freely reproduced under Creative Commons License.
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