At the Heart of Discoverability: Where Are We At?

Digital discoverability APFC study
Credit: Freepik

An update on the Alliance des producteurs francophones du Canada (APFC)’s At the Heart of Discoverability research project on digital discoverability.

This project introduced last October, will reach the end of the test bed stage in a few months. Six producers and APFC members, with supervision from two digital discoverability agency LaCogency consultants, are participating in the project, each with one in-progress production. The objective is to develop, implement, and validate discoverability and audience development strategies for these TV series.

Various genres or series were selected for the purposes of this study — animation, variety shows, documentaries, fiction for teenagers or adults — and their target audiences are equally diverse. They range from children aged 5–6 to adults interested in country music. 

The selected series

‘Abigaëlle et la séduction prénatale’

A production of Edmonton-based Far West Productions. This romantic comedy is aimed at women aged 18 to 45. Its second season will be online on TV5’s Unis.TV starting February 2020.

‘Amélie et compagnie’

A production of Ottawa-based Carte Blanche Films. This children’s fiction for 6-to-12-year-olds is broadcast by TFO, and the third season aired in the fall of 2019. The fourth is scheduled for the fall of 2020.

‘Balade’

A production of Toronto-based Machine Gum Productions. This documentary presents francophone musicians from across the country. The second season will air on Unis TV in March 2020.

‘Canot cocasse’

This production of Winnipeg-based Manito Média is an animated series for children 5-to-7 years old. The fourth season runs on Unis TV from January to March, and will be broadcast on Radio-Canada starting April 2020.

‘La vie compliquée de Léa Olivier’

A production of Ottawa-based Slalom (co-produced with Encore Télévision). This fiction is aimed at youths aged 9 to 15, the first season of which will be offered on Club Illico starting February 2020.

‘Tout simplement country’

A production of Halifax-based Connections Productions, ‘Tout simplement country’ is a variety show dedicated to country music. Its first season airs on ICI ARTV from December 2019 to February 2020, and on ICI Radio-Canada Télé starting February 2020.

Digital discoverability: a matter of connections

The consultants initially assessed each of the selected programs’ discoverability once participants had completed a questionnaire to determine their familiarity with both the notion and the activities linked to better discoverability. While participants were generally familiar with the concept, they felt that its was primarily a digital marketing strategy based on social media.

Few had optimized their presence on the pillars of digital discoverability for audiovisual works that are YouTube, Wikipedia and IMDb. Above all, there were very few links — or connections — between the digital spaces that revolve around content, i.e., those of the producer, their work and their broadcaster(s).

Why do these links matter? The answer lies in the web of data.

“Making information discoverable in a digital world means making it accessible in the form of data.”

The web of data, or linked data, is what the internet is evolving towards. It is an initiative of the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) that wants to transform it into a “global information network” in which data generates new meaning when linked together, rather than remaining hidden in several closed and unconnected databases, which prevents machines that cannot read human text from making the necessary connections.

The discoverability of cultural content thus increasingly depends on links between works, people, organizations, places and events. As digital content exploitation specialist Josée Plamondon explains, “Making information discoverable in a digital world means making it accessible in the form of data, linking it to other information so that our digital traces can be deployed, like the human body’s neural networks.”

Ephemeral versus durable discoverability

For Andrée Harvey and Véronique Marino of LaCogency, there are two forms of discoverability. One is based on public-oriented activities, such as traditional and digital promotion and marketing. They use an interesting metaphor to describe it: “These are short-term discoverability actions that can be compared to a flash in the pan or the ingestion of a dose of sugar: the effect is at once instantaneous, powerful and ephemeral.”

Digital discoverability, for its part, “is long-term: it allows a conversation to take place with machines and algorithms in order to ensure a lasting presence for content. It ensures that a film or TV series is discoverable even after it has been launched or broadcast in theatres or on TV. Again to use a metaphor, digital discoverability is equivalent to a fireplace or the ingestion of fibres and proteins: the effect is long-lasting. On the web, we can even talk about permanence.”

“Digital discoverability, for its part, ‘is long-term: it allows a conversation to take place with machines and algorithms in order to ensure a lasting presence for content.’”

The selected TV series were not all equal in the face of “ephemeral” discoverability: some enjoy notoriety built on previous seasons, others benefit from the support of a broadcaster with significant resources or an audience acquired prior to broadcast because the project is inspired by a successful literary work.

Taking that into account, digital discoverability strategies developed for each of the series leveled the playing field. Changes made to certain series on IMDb, YouTube and Wikipedia have already had significant positive impacts. In the case of ‘Amélie et compagnie’, for example, building meaning around what was an isolated and undiscoverable series as of April of 2019 is paying off. The show’s page has become popular on the Carte Blanche Films website. Over six months, it has progressed dramatically compared to the other pages on the site.

This has also benefited the show’s broadcaster, TFO. An online search around the series, in addition to bringing out all its seasons and the interactive content related to it, in some cases brings out an element of the broadcaster’s catalogue in which some of the series’ protagonists also appear.

Another example: In May 2019, a search using the phrase “Balade série” resulted in the display of a link to the program on the broadcaster’s site. But it also produced confusion by displaying a carousel of videos with no link to the program other than the term “balade” in the title. Today, the links and information increasingly refer to Machine Gum’s show, but some confusion remains around the show’s title, a frequently used word.

Major quantifiable results cannot yet be said to have been achieved — it is far too early in a cycle of durable discoverability. However, if only for the awareness, on the part of the producers, of the need to adapt their practices in order to consolidate their online presence, the test bed has already produced some interesting results. It will be up to the producers to integrate the new skills acquired into their production flow.

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