Audiences still flocking to Star Académie

The hugely successful Big Brother-meets-Idol series which taps into Quebec's extensive and adored roster of homegrown stars thrives, while ROC's Idol has fallen.

While Canadian Idol got the boot, and much of primetime is struggling to achieve healthy performances, Quebec audiences are going against the tide. Last Sunday, over three million people sat down to watch homegrown TV on two of the province’s oldest networks, lured by TVA’s Star Académie and Radio-Canada’s talkative Tout le monde en parle.

Since its fourth-season debut in February on the Quebecor-owned network, Sunday night’s Star Académie has consistently drawn upwards of two million viewers, even on Oscars night (Feb. 22), when 2.2 million watched Edmonton’s Kreesha Turner share the stage with the dozen or so young talents vying to be this year’s winning star.

And while Star Académie is clearly the Quebec television happening of the 2009 winter season, talk fest Tout le monde en parle (Everybody’s Talking) has also been a consistent hit for SRC on the same night, averaging 1.2 million since its debut in September 2004.

‘Roughly 200,000 have deserted us for Star Académie,’ says SRC’s director of public relations, Marc Pichette. ‘But that’s minimal. We have a strong core of devoted fans. Star Académie is a major event, so it’s normal people are watching it.’

Indeed. While there are more than 50 versions of the Endemol format, the adaptation has been one of the most successful, likely because it taps into the province’s extensive and adored roster of made-in-Quebec stars. Producer and host Julie Snyder once said her goal with Star Académie was to ‘create a show that would become a family ritual, like Sunday mass.’

The well-worn format, a combination of Big Brother and American Idol, sees contestants live together at an academy – Quebecor CEO Pierre Péladeau’s mansion in St. Adele, QC – where they are filmed constantly. Monday through Thursday, viewers can follow their progress on daily 30-minute segments broadcast on TVA. Roughly one million tune in daily.

‘The show works because it’s showcasing Quebec culture. And it’s a high-quality show,’ says media buyer Line Content of Montreal’s Media Experts.

In fact, Star Académie appears carefully programmed to appeal to mainstream francophone audiences. The contestants are managed by ‘teachers’, which this season include Céline Dion’s manager and husband René Angélil, actor Patrick Huard and retired Montreal Canadiens’ player Stéphane Quintal.

Every Sunday, the two-hour variety show showcases contestants performing with Québécois and other Canadian entertainers. Last Sunday, Bryan Adams was on hand to sing a few songs. Dion made an appearance March 1.

Of course, the TMEP producers are equally savvy. It is also a showcase for Quebec entertainers and newsmakers. ‘The show works because it’s connected to current events,’ says Pichette. ‘People tune in to watch the people who are making the news.’

Pichette is also quick to point out that the success of TMEP and Star Académie isn’t unusual. Quebec audiences have been watching their own shows, en masse, for over five decades: ‘Quebecers love their homegrown TV.’

From Playback Daily