French films find a new home on Cinessance as French-speaking service aims to shake up streaming

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Searching for French films online has been a constant struggle for Francophones and Francophiles; but with the recent launch of Cinessance, it may get easier.

After its debut in the United States and Canada on November 16, the exclusively French-language platform aims to fill an important gap in the market of the streaming industry. With many major streaming platforms such as Netflix and Amazon Prime Video lacking in French content, Cinessance founder Clément Monnet said he hopes to make the cinema genre easier to find.

He added that showing films with French and English subtitles will benefit not only Francophones and Francophiles, but also those interested in learning the language.

Monnet grew up in France and said he learned English by watching the hit TV show “Friends” in English with subtitles. He said that because of this, he personally knows how the media can have a huge impact on a person’s ability to learn a foreign language.

After moving to California in 2015 to co-found Voom, an Uber-esque service for helicopters that completed operations last year, he observed that it was significantly more difficult to watch and share French films online. Monnet traveled to Singapore and China before settling in the United States, and during his travels he typically watched French TV shows or movies available on airline entertainment systems.

However, there were several instances after the flight where Monnet struggled to find an online version of particular movies he enjoyed in the sky.

With an American fiancee keen to learn more about her native language, the 34-year-old entrepreneur said this issue often prevents her from sharing her love of French cinema with her partner.

“My fiancee doesn’t speak French, but she understands a little,” he says. “There are so many times when I try to show him a French film. . . and all the time we fail to find it online.

The platform allows potential subscribers to consult their catalog in French and English before committing to a monthly payment. (Photo © Cinessance)

And he’s not the only one dealing with this problem. With around 300 million Francophones and 120 million Francophiles around the world, many find it difficult to access French films. Brunante Rastello, a French-speaking student at Laval University in Quebec, is one of them.

“I’m on Netflix and Amazon Prime and honestly there isn’t a lot of French content,” Rastello said. “They’ve recently added a lot of Quebec movies and series, but other than that, there aren’t really any classics.”

With Cinessance currently offering just over 100 movies, Monnet said he hopes to host 500-1,000 movies in the streaming service’s catalog by early 2022. After that, the goal is to add more movies. TV series to the mix, but for now the focus is on cinema.

“The catalog is super rich, from classic films to modern films,” Monnet said. While the starting selection might seem small compared to what other platforms have to offer in English, he said it was more than enough to kick things off.

Monnet said the pilot phase of Cinessance has been successful so far, with more than 1,000 people signing up for the service within the first 24 hours of its release. With that came the comments from his new audience – customer comments that he said his team was working hard to implement in future updates.

In July, more than 60 films products in Quebec have been added to several streaming platforms, including Netflix Canada, Club Illico, Crave and Ici Tou.tv Extra.

Rastello said a service like Cinessance is crucial for French representation, but she hopes to eventually see more French-Canadian content available soon.

“I think it would connect with a lot of Quebecers,” she said. “I think it would interest a lot more francophones here.”

UniFrance data Study 2021 on the place of French films on paid streaming services. (Graphic © Miranda Caley)

The same sentiment is shared by the director of the Assembly of the Francophonie in Ontario, Peter Hominuk, who said that accessibility to French-Canadian content would greatly benefit Quebec and Canada as a whole. With more and more of this type of content available online, an increase in demand for new content will naturally follow.

And with the popularity of French cinema in North America alone, that seems to be true. According to a recent UniFrance study, the genre has slowly gained ground on streaming platforms; it has gone from 2.4% of digital catalogs in 2019 to 4.8% this year. With France being one of the world’s largest film exporters, Monnet said it was important to have a wide variety of content available online.

“It could really help our Canadian French-language television and film producers access more funding and new projects,” said Hominuk. “It’s going to give us this opportunity to see more content and I think it’s going to break down the barriers.”


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