An article entitled “Where Are All the Kidcasts?” published in the March 31, 2016, edition of The Atlantic opines: “Podcasts could offer […] a way to entertain and educate kids without fear of burning their retinas or letting their imaginations go to ruin. Plus, they could fit seamlessly into existing routines, filling long car trips or down-time before bed.” Three years later, the production of podcasts for children is rapidly expanding in English-speaking markets. The same cannot be said, however, of francophone markets, where such content remains marginal. But things are beginning to change, as young ears draw more attention.
At a time when the digital revolution is transforming the public’s media consumption habits, it’s no secret that the appetite for podcasts is growing exponentially, here in Canada and around the world. As the latest edition of our Trends Report reminds us, “Audio content continues to carve out its place in the habits of Canadian consumers. […] On this side of the border, 61% of adults are familiar with the term ‘podcast,’ compared to slightly more reported in the United States, 64% (Edison Research). In Canada, it’s no great surprise that 18-34 year olds show the most enthusiasm for this type of audio content. 41% of the members of this age group listen to a podcast every month. The Canadian average stands at 28%.”
In the United States, consumption of podcasts has been growing since 2017 in all population segments, but especially among 12 to 24 year olds, who are tuning in at a rate more than 30% higher. Furthermore, 53% of Spotify subscribers in the 12-to-24 age bracket report having listened to a podcast within the last month (source: The Infinite Dial 2019). In addition, significant developments in smart speaker technology are likely to accentuate this trend and increase the public thirst for digital audio content (2019 Trends Report, Canada Media Fund). As for independent producers, since the international success of the American series Serial in 2014, many studios and creators have joined in the adventure. In Québec, Magnéto was one of the first studios to get involved, while new players such as Grand public and RECréation have joined the fray with a mix of original and sponsored productions.
In the wider francophone community, Nouvelles Écoutes (France), Louie Media (France) and Atelier de création sonore radiophonique (Belgium) are just some of the many companies that are reinventing audio storytelling and creating a new audience of young people for the radio medium.
On the sidelines for now but ready to soar
Despite these encouraging signs, content production for children, especially in French, remains marginal in the podcast tidal wave of recent years. While the American network Kids Listen comprises dozens of organizations and creators dedicated to producing children’s podcasts (albeit far short of the volume created for adults), few independent francophone producers have taken up the challenge. Moreover, for many years podcast productions for young francophone audiences were basically limited to readings of classics from children’s literature, such as the Tintin series from France Culture. Some networks have also offered a sprinkling of radio programs for young people. Who could forget Radio-Canada’s wonderful program 275 allô or fail to be amazed by the longevity of France Inter’s P’tits bateaux!
There are signs of change, however. The traditional major players in French-language radio are beginning to shake things up with experimental children’s productions. Audiences can tune in to Radio-Canada to follow the adventure of master villain El Kapoutchi, a program created for 4 to 8 year olds by Alexandre Courteau and Pascale Richard. For its production of Une histoire et… Oli, France Inter invites well-known authors (including Marie Desplechin, Antoine de Caunes and Guillaume Meurice) to imagine and recount short tales for 5 to 7 year olds, while the series Les Odyssées plunges 7 to 12 year olds into the fascinating life stories of famous historical figures.
Independent francophone producers are also starting to show interest. Launched at the end of 2017, the Québec studio La puce à l’oreille is exclusively dedicated to producing narrative audio content for children (in the interests of transparency, it should be mentioned that the author of this article is one of the cofounders). In 2018, Louie Media produced the heart-warming series Entre exploring the passage from childhood to adolescence for 11-year-old Justine. Audio productions of short stories have begun to flourish on French podcast platforms such as Sybel, Majelan and Eeko. Rascasse le vieux marin, a gentle fictional story full of poesy from Belgian producer Zoé Suliko, won Best Audiobook at the 2019 New York Festivals International Radio Program Awards.
Finally, in 2019 La puce à l’oreille will present in Montreal Les récrés sonores, the first festival dedicated to children’s podcasts. This initiative is also supported by L’écoute buissonnière, a network comprising producers from L’Armada productions, Atelier de création sonore radiophonique, La puce à l’oreille and Syntone magazine.
These are all so many positive signs indicating that children’s podcasts in French will soon be garnering a great deal of attention.
Beyond entertainment: educational podcasts
Podcasts create an immersive environment and are readily available, making them the ideal platform for sharing rich, documented and entertaining content, especially for young audiences not yet comfortable with written media but with a great appetite for learning. Moreover, this creative format brings together the expertise of specialists, sound design and documentary storytelling on a digital medium that can be used anywhere with no need for a screen. This provides an innovative opportunity for cultural mediation, knowledge sharing and support for developing curiosity.
According to the Lettres numériques platform, listening to audiobooks doubles children’s interest in learning to read, triples vocabulary acquisition, yields a fivefold improvement in language mastery and increases text understanding eight times over. Furthermore, according to a study by the Kids Listen network into the listening habits of young audiences, podcasts offer considerable potential for learning:
- 80% of children listen to a podcast more than once;
- Nearly 20% listen to an episode at least 10 times;
- After listening to a podcast, 73% initiate conversations pertaining to what they heard, 58% quote or re-enact part of the episode, 56% talk to other children about what they learned from the podcast, 54% ask to hear the episode again, and 52% request more information about a topic in the podcast they just heard.
This data is gradually having an impact on institutions. Museums, for example, are beginning to consider audio storytelling as a means of reinventing their cultural mediation approaches aimed at young audiences—before, during and after a visit. Such initiatives include Promenades imaginaires at Musée d’Orsay and a project under development to create audio paths through the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts produced in collaboration with La puce à l’oreille and Magnéto, with the support of the Conseil des arts et des lettres du Québec. You can be sure that it won’t be the last project of its type.
Are French podcasts for children about to follow in the footsteps of their counterparts for adults (with the same success, one would hope)? We can’t wait to see the fall schedules of the major players, as well as the nominees for the brand new children’s category of the Paris Podcast Festival!