A few months back, I became aware of a startup called myLINGO run by a 19-year-old Harvard dropout named Olenka Polak. She had a pretty impressive app idea: speakers of foreign languages would use the app to watch movies in theatres dubbed in their native tongue. Most major films have dubs available, but there has been no centralized way to get them to people in cinemas. Polak and her co-founder brother had just closed a seed round and told me more announcements relating to studio partnerships were imminent.
Well, it’s been more than three months, and now there’s an update. The company has announced a partnership with Pantelion Films to launch with its upcoming film “Cesar Chavez.” The launch will feature a Spanish audio track to accompany the film, which is in English.
The news isn’t surprising — we knew a film announcement was the logical next step for her company. She, her brother, and their chief engineer have been working on the back end of myLINGO for more than a year, and what started off as a small college side-project has grown into built in-app technology that successfully streams dubbed audio through users’ smartphones. The app is secure enough to adhere to the film industry’s strict anti-piracy regulations — or at least that’s the assumption if a film studios are signing on.
For months, Polak has been pitching her company to studios. With Pantelion the first to sign on, this is myLINGO’s first real test. Polak told me she considers this a “soft launch” and hopes it will get the word out to foreign language speakers.
While it sounds easy, nothing in the film studio film is. Most studios would likely embrace the opportunity to have their films available in multiple tongues in one theater, but distribution rights are intense, and legacy Hollywood studios could be reluctant to work with an unproven third party app maker. At the same time, since no company has thus far successfully launched its own dubbing app, the market is ostensibly wide open.
Pantelion, in this vein, makes sense as a first partnership, since it’s a smaller studio that markets to Spanish speakers. It released the biggest Spanish-language US box office success, “Instructions Not Included.” But Polak hopes that a bunch of filmgoers download her app so bigger studios see myLINGO’s potential. Nielsen reports that Hispanics represent 25 percent of all moviegoers in this country, so Pantelion is a suitable strategic choice for myLINGO to help it gain some initial user traction.
Polak also said she’s targeting the app for family use, hoping mobile-phone literate Hispanic kids can convince their parents to take them to the cinema. “Kids are just more tech-savvy,” she says.
She’s also still in talks with other studios and says more updates are on the horizon. Although, for now, she is expending most of her energy on “Cesar Chavez.” If enough people use the app and like it, others will hopefully catch on, Polak believes.
If the film is a flop, however, there’s no telling what effect that could have on myLINGO’s beta test.
[illustration by Brad Jonas for Pando]