The case for more French content—online

Along with many other Canadians who are opting out of cable in favour of Netflix, YouTube and Amazon Prime, young Francophones are increasingly abandoning traditional French-language broadcasters for online content dominated by the English language.  As the RVF’s Philippe Daoust explains in a recent blog post, the popularity of American programs like The Walking Dead and Game of Thrones, especially among binging internet audiences, is presenting a very real challenge to producers of original French-language content.

In fact, according to a recent study reported by La Presse,  38% of young Quebeckers believe that the supply of quality French-language content is not sufficient.  Their viewing habits are even more revealing.  While 76% of 12- to 15-year-olds watch French content all or most of the time, this proportion drops significantly as viewers age, down to only 49% among 19- to 25-year-olds.

According to the research and innovation centre that authored the study, CEFRIO, Quebec producers need to do more to appeal to young audiences.  As Philippe puts it: “When we consider that 99% of young people listen to their content in English when there is no equivalent in French, and that they ‘never’ or ‘only occasionally’ use subtitles, we can only echo the call to double our efforts to present more quality French-language content on all of our screens.”

I think, as Anglophones seek to engage their children in more immersive experiences of the French language and culture, we need to join that call to action in support of more French language content.  Especially at a time when Quebec film-makers are becoming increasingly sought after in Hollywood, we also need to reflect on how we can better support Francophone artists in their mother tongue at home.

Considering that the role of traditional broadcasters in producing Canadian content has decreased significantly in general, the need for innovation becomes even more apparent.  As Huffington Post Canada reports, while total spending on Canadian content production reached an unprecedented high of $3.3 billion last year, it appears as though Netflix productions account for the largest share of that spending when it comes to English-language content production.

A recent deal will see Netflix investing $500 million into Canadian productions, but while more young Francophones are watching Netflix, there’s no specific requirement for or commitment to French-language content production.  Interesting enough, there’s no lack of demand; that’s made clear through the success of the Francophone series, Unité 9, now among the top three most watched programs by Quebec youth in the 19- to 25-year-old age group.

Undoubtedly, we need to think long and hard about how we can keep our Francophone artists here at home, making quality French-language content that appeals to young people.

Kirsten McPherson