1990 AND BEYOND

Kamen Ferdinandov, CTO and founder of SubtitleNEXT, Profuz Digital, opens up about SubtitleNEXT’s exemplary journey spanning over three-decades

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Defined as one of the industry’s most reliable and emergent timed-text subtitling software packages, it is no surprise why SubtitleNEXT is referred to by many professionals today as the ‘subtitler’s lifesaver.’ The system is teeming with an array of immediate resourceful tools, and can be put to work on heavy deadline-driven workloads. 
It primarily aims at audio-visual translation freelance professionals, through to Language Services Providers, production, post-production companies and broadcasters. Many of the companies and educational establishments that have already adopted the system and use SubtitleNEXT on a daily basis including the likes of Canal+ Myanmar FG, the University of Rome Tor Vergata, The Hellenic American College, Doli Media Studio, The European School of Translation and Europe’s largest Belgium-based production company Videohouse, where it has been used on well-known TV series such as Big Little Lies, Sirens, Vikings and many more.
Created by Profuz Digital, SubtitleNEXT stems from a reliable legacy that has been built up over the past thirty years.  CTO and founder, Kamen Ferdinandov, is the brainchild behind the core software development. With a combination of technological expertise, Kamen is backed by a passionate team with astute business acumen and industry awareness, jointly responsible for SubtitleNEXT’s ongoing growth and success. The software development milestones Kamen initiated, had led to the evolution from Subtitle, one of the first file-based subtitling tools, through to SubtitlePlus, a worldwide renowned subtitling tool for broadcasters.

THE START
“Actually, when the first version of Subtitle appeared over 25 years ago, there were no file-based workflows around, and in fact, they were not even on the horizon. Back then, only tapes were used for preparing subtitles and the problem was that the existing subtitling workstations at that time were specialised and expensive devices.  So, my initial concept was to create a software-only solution which would provide the same high-level workstation but with a standard PC, which we successfully achieved,” reflected Kamen.
“The design was (and still is) independent from any specific hardware as such, but allows for the inclusion of additional hardware support, such as video signals processing and video mixers that create open subtitles over video signals, as well as timecode readers, VCR controllers, and so forth.  This in turn, also prepared the software for upcoming file-based workflows,” he added.

Furthermore, Kamen had the insight to recognise that it made sense to make the subtitling process more accessible to a much wider user group and not strictly for professionals alone. His initiative was to implement user-friendly and familiar text-editing application tools. 
An example of how this development has evolved in SubtitleNEXT, is that unlike many other subtitling tools that restrict users to work on one subtitle at a time, SubtitleNEXT allows one to work with the whole text in multiple subtitles—in line with advanced text editing applications that are familiar in the market today.
The Subtitle version was a DOS-based programme and used the standard PC components to create, edit and air (burn subtitles over video signal). Kamen remarked, “I think back then, it was the only programme of this type and the only one that could both create, edit and air subtitles.”  Soon afterwards, he created the SubtitlePlus version for Windows.
“A year after the first version of SubtitlePlus appeared, the file-based workflow was then included in its infrastructure. I think it was possibly the first ever file-based workflow in the subtitling world, and definitely the only one that provided a mixed environment for both, tape-based and file-based pipelines.”  Recalled Kamen.
Another significant innovation break-through that Kamen can take full credit for concerns the independence of existing standards in Subtitle and SubtitlePlus. Kamen explained, “This concept is more relevant today than ever before. Most existing subtitling solutions available on the market, even now, are highly dependent on what kind of subtitles one creates, whether it be in teletext format, or as open subtitles, closed captions and so on.  This means that some knowledge of these standards is still required, and therefore limits what can be done with the subtitles. The modern standards that broke this mould are compatible in SubtitleNEXT, which is a system that has adapted and shows its readiness to handle and serve all the latest formats, resolutions and technical requirements including various fonts, font sizes, looks, positions, appearance, and much more. This allows SubtitleNEXT to widen the scope in which subtitles or other forms of timed text formats are used.”


Between 2002 and 2014, the focus of SubtitlePlus further evolved across its broadcast-related features and the development of the multi-channel, multi-language automated subtitle airing platform known as the DVB Subtitle Server, evolved into SubtitleNEXT Central. In 2016, Profuz Digital focused on the upgrade and further development of the latest version of the software and renamed it as SubtitleNEXT.  Many of the new features, modern standards and formats were then added and have led to the system that we now see today. It is platform-independent and runs smoothly on all major operating systems such as Windows, Linux and MAC OS.

POPULARITY AND TRENDS
The SubtitleNEXT of 1990 is not the same product that has now evolved into what it is today. The evolution eventually led to the present day SubtitleNEXT and NEXT-TT platforms and has grown to fit user needs over time. Kamen summed up the advantages that the evolutionary process has brought to the present-day systems SubtitleNEXT and NEXT-TT, “Unlike other tech products that tie up users with single vendor dependencies, we prefer to give our clients the freedom to benefit from a variety of dynamic industry-specific technologies, while retaining the distinct advantages that using a single system brings, such as providing a single place to generate searches and reports even across multiple external systems.”
Kamen ran through SubtitleNEXT’s 2019 version’s key features. “It provides users with a multi-file synchronous browsing editing feature with a standard and text editor-like experience that can create standard and modern creative subtitles and timed text messaging that adapt to all the latest rules, checks and fix-ups to the subtitles (both text and timing). RegEx Search and Replace engine has been included to allow advanced search and text replacements—for example—one can find all Name Family type names and reverse them to Family Name without explicitly listing all name pairs, nor doing it a pair at a time.”


The Hybrid platform called NEXT-TT supports both, local and online materials, such as subtitles, media and metadata. The latter one gives the same experience as in a web application but with the benefits of a desktop application, and uses all available translation and other tools, in case of a limited web application on terms of the webserver’s provision. SubtitleNEXT has the flexibility to work with all kinds of timed media from video, audio, presentations, and also supports live subtitling with one or two stages of re-speaking. It also supports non file-based media and direct video signals such as analogue, digital, and streaming, which makes it perfect for all types of live shows and events such as festivals, live gigs, the Opera, theatre, presentations, conferences, seminars - you name it.  Its ‘automation for airing’ feature is useful for live shows and events with prepared subtitles.
Often referencing a system as ‘legacy’ means that it paved the way for the standards that would follow and that it is tried and tested, solid, trusted and a reliable product that has had time to prove itself to the market. 
SubtitleNEXT’s impact on Profuz Digital due to its historical role has been a positive one, and Kamen explained why, “To have an established product that the market already believes in, provides a great foundation to build further on even more incredible features that can bring efficiency speed and proficiency to users in a busy environment—for example—development has also included adding new interfaces including web-based, terminal-based mainframe applications, orward engineering approaches, and these have greatly improved and influenced  the legacy software and durability.”


Technologists understand the importance of sound architecture right from the start. The best systems in place today are those that embraced well-known IT architectural principles.  Poorly designed systems often don’t last, because they wear out and their inherent faults invite replacement. Thus, many organisations are rediscovering the value of both their legacy systems and the theoretical underpinnings of those systems.

WHAT’S NEXT-TT?
The NEXT-TT – SubtitleNEXT approach brings something different to the industry as Kamen outlined. “We are not restricted to one market area; the product applies to every single company and industry. There literally are no limitations. To provide an example, typically there are two approaches to providing solutions to customers, and they are either project or custom-based or industry-specific or ‘out of the box.’ The custom/project-based line is an expensive option and can be slow-moving. Also, historically from our experience, providers of such solutions are trying to replicate or reuse software that is made for specific situations which could prove to be a nightmare for users in the long run. Their knowledge and know-how are specific as they are focused on a limited number of customers/projects,” he explained.


Regarding the industry-specific ‘out-of-the-box’ option, this can lack flexibility and needs additional integration work, which means that the company needs to adapt to the software and not the other way around.
“Looking at both approaches, we effectively address both and our aim is to further develop and refine them. Of course, every solution has its drawbacks. However, by building certain partnerships, we are fully equipped to deal with challenges as they arise. For example, if an organisation has a requirement for the ‘best of breed CRM,’ we would be confident and flexible enough to connect to whichever tool the client needs, and then be able to provide other functionalities much faster and at an affordable rate at the same time.”

SKY IS THE LIMIT
NEXT-TT can provide a complete cloud solution, or it can be configured to work in a hybrid way. It would be entirely up to the customer and what their needs dictate in terms of the architecture. This adds an additional layer of security and creates a single environment to control the management, usage, structure, storage of various data and processes.”
“So, it is entirely up to you,” said Kamen, “If you want, you can have access to all your business-critical files from any web device whether you’re at your desk, working from home or at a coffee shop halfway around the world. Businesses are more mobile today than ever before.”
Advantages worth mentioning involving cloud asset management with SubtitleNEXT and NEXT-TT include easy implementation, quick adoption, great integration, an intuitive user experience and crucially, security. Fast implementation frees up IT resources and allows you to get started straight away.
Kamen concluded, “Our secret is that we listen carefully to what everyone has to say. The team also genuinely cares about what challenges the industry faces and they take an interest. We work with this vital feedback and use it to implement positive changes, develop new capabilities and hopefully bring ground-breaking functionalities that benefit users more than ever before.”

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