The creators of Flip l’algorithme do not have it easy. In addition to producing multiplatform content for viewers aged 9 to 12 years of age, the age group often considered as the hardest to reach, the team in charge of the show broadcast by TFO must contribute to making French cool in a minority setting.
Initially named Mission Flip before being renamed Flip followed by Flip l’algorithme, the show also transitioned from a live daily format to a weekly rendezvous. “Before, we were targeting 13- to 17-year-olds with a talk-show format,” explains producer Fabienne L’Abbé. “When we decided to focus on 9- to 12-year-olds, once a week, we wanted to create something that looked more polished, flashier and more expedient.”
It’s a pace that is particularly well suited to the members of a generation that grew up in an era during which their attention was constantly being (over)retained. In short, the creators must think of young Franco-Ontarians day after day and they openly admit that it’s a tremendous challenge. “Between who you are at 9 years old and who you become at 12, there’s a world of difference,” says host Pascal Boyer. “If I take my example, I was still playing in the sandbox at 9, whereas I began to explore my sexuality at 12!”
The production team therefore needs to create content that will interest 9-year-olds without boring 12-year-olds and develop content for 12-year-olds dealing with subjects that will not intimidate 9-year-olds. Luckily, at that age, youth are very curious. “Between 9 and 12 years of age, kids are on a quest and they want us to explain living to them,” illustrates the show’s editor-in-chief, Marie-Josée Houle. “They are really smart and they understand lots of things. They are so exposed to information today that they are a lot smarter than some people imagine.”
The program includes columns, humoristic capsules, songs, vox pops, tutorials, parodies, etc. Moreover, the show’s ancestor has had some of its segments go viral in social media.
Justin Trudeau vs. Donald Trump (1.9 million views on YouTube)
Céline Dion reprend les succès de l’été (close to 100,000 views on YouTube)
Justin Bieber ruine Pâques (95,000 views on YouTube)
However, the massive success of the Trudeau vs. Trump video leaves its creators with a two-shaded memory. “We have a love-hate relationship with this video,” states Ms. L’Abbé. “Something that went so viral is impossible to reproduce. We launched the video at just the right time, right after Trump was elected. The perfect storm occurred. It was a question of luck, but we cannot hope to produce the same result each and every time.” Her colleague adds this: “If we really knew what worked in social media, it would be a lot easier to create content and we’d just have to always do the same thing for things to go viral,” explains Ms. Houle.
Nevertheless, the team does not intend to move away from parodies. “During the last season, we flipped a Post Malone song into a song on personal hygiene,” recalls the producer. “We always used Kanye West’s I Love It. It’s a song that a lot of kids love to sing and that is full of lyrics that are disrespectful toward women. We reproduced the clip after having flipped the song in French with lyrics that should have been said about women.”
In all cases, youth are very appreciative of humour. “In the case of an absurdly hilarious parody of a popular song, we know that it will be a hit,” explains the editor-in-chief. “It is really through humour that we manage to reach them, including in our interviews and news stories. It’s not for nothing that each episode presents a sketch.”
Whereas several segments are geared toward entertainment, others tackle scientific questions or social issues. Take, for example, Air Canada’s decision to respect non-binary people by opting for a gender-neutral way to greet clients. “Youth are exposed to all of that, but they don’t understand everything,” points out Ms. Houle. “If they hear about a subject in the media or at the family dining-room table, we can talk about it.”
The power of social media
Whoever produces a show for tweens must be aware of the utmost importance that social networks have in their lives. “The design of Flip l’algo was inspired by YouTube’s algorithm,” explains Fabienne L’Abbé. “Our show is separated into segments that can be viewed independently on social networks, but we also use a hashtag to connect a show’s capsules together.” And let’s not forget that host Pascal Boyer actually posts something—a photo, a video, a story, etc.—on social media to entice youth to consult them at the beginning of each show.
That being said, at 9 to 12 years old, viewers are not supposed to have Facebook accounts, and apps such as TikTok and Instagram are therefore preferred to connect with youth. “We use hashtags that set trends on Instagram for our show and we re-share photos in which kids tag us,” points out the producer. “We try to build engagement.”
The platform created by Mark Zuckerberg is nevertheless used to reach adults including former TV viewers, parents, teachers, and cultural facilitators. Flip’s large Facebook community has enabled the team to reach out to several schools and organize training on French’s ‘cool’ factor. “Minority French-speaking communities must deal with linguistic insecurity on a daily basis,” explains Fabienne L’Abbé. “When we visit schools, our goal is to provide them with tools and restore their confidence. We present them examples of Flip content with which they can connect to make them want to watch us and explain to them that we are their voice. There’s a lot of groundwork to do to have them get to know us.”
The competition does not come so much from the French-language shows produced in Quebec, but rather from the sea of English content originating from English Canada, the United States and the rest of the world, given Franco-Ontarians are particularly exposed to English-language television, music and social networks. Seeing as TFO is a television network funded by the Ontario Ministry of Education, the shows it produces must promote good-quality French without, however, alienating viewers. “We want to avoid having the words youth speak considered as errors,” says Marie-Josée Houle. “We allow ourselves to use expressions and anglicisms that they can identify with. And we insist on presenting a diversity of accents without forgetting young francophones from culturally diverse communities. We include them in the gang. We think of them when it comes to the vox pops and when choosing the names of our sketches’ characters.”
A question of tone
The choice of words is as important as the host’s tone. In this regard, Pascal Boyer considers that he has the appropriate tools. The host and comedian, that TFO viewers have watched in Moitié Moitié and Motel Monstre, has visited a countless number of schools in the province over the past years. “This proximity with the public is a huge advantage when it comes to finding the right tone,” he says. “I stay abreast of what is considered as cool and the words that youth add to their vocabulary. I incorporate these codes in my style of animation.”
In order to find common ground to reach the diversity of youth aged 9 to 12 years of age, he positions himself as a big brother who makes them laugh and with whom they can relate. “Youth are hungry for authenticity and genuine relationships. I cannot fall into becoming the character because that is not what will get them hooked.”
Today, at 29, he admits that he has been aware of the battles waged by Franco-Ontarians for a long time now. “I have walked in their shoes. I spent all of my high-school years in Ontario. When you attend a French-language school in Thunder Bay, that in itself is a political statement. There is a duty that comes with that and that you are constantly reminded of. In school, French becomes either an obligation or a punishment if you speak English or if you take shortcuts in English. With Flip, we wanted to try and portray French as being something cool by creating fun opportunities in French for kids.”
Pascal Boyer replaced Philippe Lacroix, a host-comedian-singer from Quebec. When the time came to replace Lacroix, Fabienne L’Abbé had a choice to make. “Once a month, I receive emails from Quebeckers who would like to make a contribution to the show. Quebec is an endless source of talent, but I consider that it is important to prioritize Ontarian communicators. I have a responsibility toward my public and toward my industry. However, there are not many people like Pascal Boyer out there. It takes shows such as Flip that feature Franco-Ontarians in order to inspire our youth.”
The next season of Flip l’algorithme will be broadcast starting in January 2020.