At the Heart of Discoverability: Innovating, Creating and Retaining French-Canadian Audiences in the Age of Abundance

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In cultural settings, and particularly in audiovisual, discoverability has become the new skill to master to ensure the emergence of local products through the multitude of attention grabbers that exist in the digital world. We know the term and we’ve discussed it during colloquia, conventions and training sessions; however, rare are the cultural producers who actually have the necessary knowledge and structure to make full use of this new skill.

It’s true for good-sized audiovisual production companies and even more so for the smaller players, including the majority of members forming the Alliance des producteurs francophones du Canada (APFC).

It is in response to this reality that the APFC designed its At the heart of discoverability project that is scheduled to be completed by spring 2020.

“By launching this project, our primary interest was to provide our members with the tools they needed to stand out.”

The context of audiovisual production in Canadian Francophonie

The APFC’s members produce films, television shows and digital media. They work mainly in French and conduct their activities outside of Québec.

Their productions can take on the form of television shows, films, multimedia projects or corporate and educational videos. In all, they total hundreds of productions of all genres and in all formats: fictions, variety shows, children and youth programs, documentaries, etc.

Their audiences are made up of people from throughout French-speaking Canada—and, to a lesser extent, the world’s French-speaking community—as well as of people who are learning French.

The APFC members’ productions are a reflection of the official [French] language minority communities spread out over nine provinces and three territories. Whether they are Acadians, Franco-Saskatchewanians, Franco-Manitobans, the French-speaking People of the North, etc., the members of these communities share a common cultural reality that is different from that of the Francophones in Québec.

It has always been complex to accurately depict these audiences because of their minority situation. Historically, television audiences have been measured by compiling the ratings of a representative sample of a given territory’s or market’s population. The distribution of French-speaking Canadians in English-language markets makes it practically impossible to quantity their television viewing patterns.

Given the transformation of the media landscape, however, we now have access to communication tools and channels that make it possible to better understand and reach these communities. There lies the essence of the project developed by the APFC.

Launched in 2018, the project is aimed at developing, implementing and validating the most relevant audience discoverability and development strategies for APFC members and disseminate this test bed’s results as well as the resulting tools and strategies.

At the end of the At the heart of discoverability project, detailed documentation on the experience will be made available online. Tools and templates adaptable to different formats and contexts will also be created and made available to all producers.

“It became urgent to enable them to take ownership of the technologies not only to attract their target audiences to their contents, but also to enable them to meet with their audiences where they are and develop ways to build their loyalty.”

Taking on the new technological paradigm

At the heart of discoverability was born out of the observations made during the Discoverability Summit hosted by the CRTC and NFB in May 2016.

“In a time of internet overabundance, we are bombarded by content, and we need to revolutionize communications to build our audiences. Experts in breakthrough technology and groundbreaking projects demonstrate how using new accessibility techniques and platforms can help you find your niche.” (Source: website of the Discoverability Summit)

All content producers must adapt to the modern media ecosystem, in which both an overabundance of content and a fierce and sophisticated competition for audiences are at play.

“For producers in official language minority communities,” points out the APFC’s executive director, Carol Ann Pilon, “this reality is exacerbated by their particular situation. It became urgent to enable them to take ownership of the technologies not only to attract their target audiences to their contents, but also to enable them to meet with their audiences where they are and develop ways to build their loyalty.”

A multi-step project

Launched in spring 2018, the project unfolded in four steps:

  • Review of the existing literature supported by a committee of experts from the digital marketing, distribution and audiovisual production financing sectors;
  • Implementation of a test bed with six APFC member producers with the support of the consultants of LaCogency, an agency that specializes in digital discoverability;
  • Production of detailed documentation on these case studies which will be posted online in both official languages in 2020;
  • Creation of tools and templates that will be used by all producers.

The expert committee contributed to the drafting of a ‘multilayer’ definition of discoverability which made it possible to structure the actions implemented as part of the test bed:

Given the progress made by the semantic web and the increasing success of video streaming platforms on the internet, the definition of discoverability now revolves around two concepts that are complementary and should be embedded one into the other. Discoverability by whom? Reference is then made to actions directed toward people (promotion, marketing). Discoverability by what? Reference is then made to actions that are directed toward automated systems (semantic markup for search engines, web-based data technologies).

LaCogency’s consultants developed a diagram to illustrate this definition:

At the heart of the digital transformation of audiovisual’s production chain

The particularly innovative and modern nature of the project will contribute to firmly anchor the association and its members in the digital ecosystem.

Carol Ann Pilon provides the following explanation: “By launching this project, our primary interest was to provide our members with the tools they needed to stand out.”

The project will not only contribute to engaging producers around the transformation that is needed for their role, but also raise the awareness of broadcasters: their collaboration is essential to the project’s success and, as of now, we have been able to count on their collaboration for all of the projects chosen for the test bed.

“Producers are in the process of learning what discoverability means and how it takes form today in 2019. The situation may not be the same next year or in two or three years from now,” adds Carol Ann Pilon.

“We know how fast technology transforms everything, but no matter how we do it, what remains is working methods that will be useable in all projects.”

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