For many families, especially during this time of year, going to the movies can act as both a tradition and an easy way to spend time with each other. But for Olenka Polak and her family, "a trip to the movies together was just non-existent," Polak says.
That's because the Polak and her brother Adam grew up in a multilingual household, with Polak's parents mainly speaking Polish. The siblings always wanted to figure out a way that their parents could enjoy movies and understand all their nuances and cultural references.
In 2012, while she was a student at Harvard, it occurred to the siblings that there are studio-produced dubbed audio tracks on both DVD and internationally releases of films. They then came up with idea for myLingo.
It's an app that enables moviegoers to download a Spanish language audio track onto their phones. The app syncs to the action on screen, and the phone's microphone captures and calibrates the sound to get the full experience of what is happening -- from the dialogue and sound effects to the soundtrack. While Spanish is the first language available, the Polaks are currently at work on providing more languages.
"Since initiating our beta program, we've had tens of thousands of users download and test out myLINGO," Polak says. "We now have some amazing studio partners on board and are working to build out even more as we prepare for a formal commercial launch next year."
Those official studio partners are Disney, Paramount and Sony, and the company is also working with Regal Entertainment Group and Cinemark Theaters, two of the top three exhibitors in the industry.
The pair have worked over the past four years to develop a proprietary algorithm and figure out how to make the platform helpful for moviegoers. For example, users listen to the alternate track through headphones, and in the event the headphones become unplugged, the audio simply stops -- it doesn't start blasting out to the theater.
The central hurdle was getting industry buy-in from the studios and movie exhibitors, including developing a training program for movie theater staffers to be able to tell the difference between someone using myLingo and someone who was pirating the movie.
"This is the first time that Hollywood studios have allowed for their content to be on an app platform during a theatrical window," Polak says. "We had to make sure our content security protocol could fight through the fiery hoops of studio requirements. We are one of the very first apps that major circuit exhibitors have endorsed."
And with these big name partnerships, the Polaks have their eyes on getting all of the major studios to jump on board, not just in the United States, but overseas. "No matter where you are in the world," Polak says, "you can listen in your language."