Crave’s French-language ploy for Québécois streaming dominance

Originally published on on February 19, 2020.

For the past few weeks, ads promoted Bell Media streaming service Crave’s French-langue expansion has covered every public and digital advertising space in Québec. The Canadian company is betting a lot of money on their new service in la langue de Molière in hopes of courting new subscribers in a market already dominated by other big players such as Netflix and Radio-Canada’s

In recent years, Québécois film and television production has proved itself not only of world-calibre but quite the lucrative sector. While many films have garnered international attention and praise, local television productions have continued to enjoy wild success and ratings in French Canadian households. 

It is only logical for Bell Media to want a share of the French-language streaming market. In the overall Canadian market, it is strong competition for Netflix. With roughly 2.5 million subscribers, Crave is quickly growing in numbers. While not reaching Netflix’s 6.5 million Canadian subscribers, it might get close in the coming years with a strong catalogue including future HBO Max content.

Over on the Québec side, Crave’s new offering of content dubbed or subtitled in French strikes at a key moment in the province’s streaming market history. The three main television networks (Radio-Canada, TVA and V) are currently not quite the competition they may seem. Radio-Canada’s, while very popular, has its limitations being a Crown corporation and cannot play by the same rules private entities can. Although, the société d’État has invested heavily in new programming for its platform’s paywalled content (Cérébrum and Fragile are heavy-hitting dramas that take from current international television aesthetics à la The Bridge or David Fincher’s Mindhunter, and La Maison Bleue is a Veep-like comedy exploration of the trials and tribulations of a fictional Québécois Republic’s fourth president), it does not have the infrastructure, ressources, or mandate to compete with other services that feed from mostly Anglophone production companies. On the other side of the spectrum, Québecor, the giant telecommunications company that owns TVA, has been focusing more on other hardware and its traditional cable services. Its Alexa/Google Home rival Hélix was launched recently to much fanfare but few positive reviews have been published in Québécois media since. The company’s president has also spent much of the past years publicly bashing, attacking, and suing its main competitors. Needless to say the giant’s attention has been scattered. The final player left, V télé, has quite conveniently been bought out by Bell Media and will be incorporated into Crave’s offering… so that settles that. 

The stage is thus set for Crave to come in and possibly sweep up a large number of subscriptions. Its latest ad campaign, our image of the week, reveals their strategy in this current digital climate. The slogan “Que c’est bon en français” (It’s oh so good in French), places the service’s new language option at the forefront of the message. This service is for you, in your language, don’t be shy. Of course, the focus on language is common in the province where the idea of nation and identity almost systematically pass through language politics. The company must present itself as having local interests at heart to win over audiences that are already familiar with other, and more established names. This could be read as pandering by a telecommunications company that, because of there recent purchase of V, has a newly acquired need for French-speaking viewers. 

The images placed above the slogan also reveal the company’s understanding of where they stand in the market and what they offer as an alternative. Prominently in the middle is an image of québécois actors Pier-Luc Funk and Catherine Brunet, leads in an original French-language production Pour toujours plus un jour, the service’s flagship show for their new expansion. Beside them are Game of Thrones’ Jon Snow played by Kit Harington and Spider-Man. With these, Crave is coming in to fill the gaps left by the others. It suggests what cannot provide, high quality original local productions ALONGSIDE major up-to-date international and American content, and what Québecor cannot give, a concise, consistent and focused plateforme. 

The gamble rests in the message. Will the sudden appearance of a behemoth in a small but lucrative market coupled with a strong intention to pass as “franco-friendly” win over a population very much aware of the politics behind these practices or is the average québécois viewer willing to look things over for a decent streaming package? 

On verra.

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