"A Community Unlike Any Other": Incorporating Fansubbers into Corporate Capitalism on Viki.com

Abstract

Viki.com, founded in 2008, is a streaming site that offers Korean (and other East Asian) television programs with subtitles in a variety of languages. Unlike other K-drama distribution sites that serve audiences outside of South Korea, Viki utilizes fan-volunteers, called fansubbers, as laborers to produce its subtitles. Fan subtitling and distribution of foreign language media in the United States is a rich fan practice dating back to the 1980s, and Viki is the first corporate entity that has harnessed the productive power of fansubbers.

In this thesis, I investigate how Viki has been able to capture the enthusiasm and productive capacity of fansubbers. Particularly, I examine how Viki has been able to monetize fansubbing in while still staying competitive with sites who employee trained, professional translators. I argue that Viki has succeeded in courting fansubbers as laborers by co-opting the concept of the “fan community.” I focus on how Viki strategically speaks about the community and builds its site to facilitate the functioning of its community so as to encourage fansubbers to view themselves as semi-professional laborers instead of amateur fans. In reframing the role of the fansubbing community, Viki creates a new image for what being a fansubber means and why fansubbing is valuable that emphasizes creating value for Viki over creating value for the fan community.

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