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France Martin hits the ground running

The new Executive Director of the Youth Media Alliance takes her positive attitude to a sector in flux: “This industry can go as far as it wants”

France Martin hasn’t been on the job very long—she assumed the role of Executive Director of the Youth Media Alliance (YMA) in April 2023. She’s also a newcomer to the screen industry, though she comes armed with plenty of executive experience in the non-profit sector, leading organizations from the Canadian Kinesiology Alliance to the Fondation des Offices jeunesse internationaux du Québec.

Still, she didn’t need much time to recognize that “change” is the watchword for Canada’s media industry in general, and youth media industry in particular. Seismic platform shifts. Bill C-11. The double-edged promise of AI.

“The industry is going through major transformation,” Martin says. “Just think of the outstanding quantities of new material now available to children. How can creators and producers make something that stands out from the group and gets selected by children or their parents?”

At YMA, it’s Martin’s mission to help producers do just that. Through advocacy, scholarship funds, an awards gala, and lowering barriers to access for different festivals, YMA is committed to ensuring that quality Canadian children’s content continues to get made.

To be sure, the obstacles are myriad. Martin mentions the crowded field of distribution channels, from traditional broadcasters to streamers to platforms like YouTube and TikTok. Says Martin, “We’re faced with the challenge of making sure there is Canadian content on streaming services, for example. And how do we get streamers involved in our associations and our industry and with our stakeholders?”

One way she is tackling this specific challenge is by assuming the role of a host at a party: doing her best to ensure that everyone knows everyone else. “We make sure that we’re in touch with the big names, and in turn, we put them in touch with our producers,” she says. This is the first step toward filling the production pipeline with high-quality kids’ content.

And while Martin sees geographical boundaries dissolving in the way that shows get produced— she mentions, as an example, a Montreal producer who’s making a series with a team assembled from three separate countries— YMA is dedicated to supporting the production of distinctly Canadian content.

“We are a Canadian organization,” she says, “and our priority is helping Canadian creators.”

In the short time she’s been at the helm of YMA, it seems Martin has already developed a key focus: improving access to content for children. This means bringing the content to the audience, rather than the audience to the content, and making that content visible around every corner, from YouTube to traditional TV.

“The best strategy is to be on many platforms at a time,” says Martin. “If I were to define success in five to seven years, it would be that whatever is produced, children and families are accessing it in as many ways as possible, for their entertainment and their education.”

Of course, in such a rapidly changing environment, it’s hard to make predictions about the next five months, let alone the next five years. It’s a thought that energizes Martin: “There’s major transformation coming along, and we are adjusting as we go. There is so much creativity and positivity in our sector, and so many new technologies, from animation to live action to video games. I think that’s fabulous. And in five or seven years, we can have this discussion again, and we’ll look back and say, ‘Wow. Where were we way back then?’

“This industry can go as far as it wants.”