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Canadians will get to watch U.S. Super Bowl ads, despite network objections

For millions, the real show during the upcoming Super Bowl will be the commercials that run when the action on the field stops – Feb 3, 2018

Canadians watching the Super Bowl on Sunday will once again have access to U.S. commercials, despite efforts by the NFL and a major Canadian broadcaster to block them.

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In 2015, the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) banned simultaneous substitution, or simsub, during the Super Bowl.

Simsub is the practice of Canadian broadcasters splicing Canadian ads over the U.S. feed of events like the Super Bowl or the Oscars.

LISTEN: The fight over U.S. Super Bowl ads in Canada
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The CRTC decision took effect last year, and Super Bowl 2017 was the first in decades in which Canadians saw popular, high-budget U.S. ads in real-time.

Speaking on CKNW’s The Jill Bennett Show, University of Ottawa law professor and media critic Micheal Geist said Bell Media has been fighting the decision since it was announced, including asking the CRTC to review its decision in time to block U.S. ads for Sunday’s big game.

READ MORE: Super Bowl ratings drop 39 per cent on Bell Media channels as CRTC ad policy takes effect

“They’ve also appealed the decision to the Supreme Court of Canada,” he said.

“They’d actually even asked the Supreme Court to grant a stay to essentially order the decision to be put on hold in time for the game. The court refused to do that. In fact the court hasn’t even decided yet if they’re going to hear the case.”

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The court did say it would hold an expedited hearing to determine whether or not it would hear Bell’s appeal.

READ MORE: Bell goes to court to quash CRTC policy bringing U.S. Superbowl ads to Canada

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Bell has argued that the decision is having a massive impact on its revenues, and said in 2017 its Super Bowl ratings on CTV, CTV Two and TSN were down 39 per cent as viewers defected to the U.S. feed.

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In its 2015 ruling, the CRTC estimated that simsub generated about $250 million per year for Canadian broadcasters, but also found that it generated complaints from consumers, such as a lack of choice and problems with timing — meaning viewers sometimes missed key plays during a big game.

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Geist acknowledged there is some financial cost to Canadian broadcasters, but said that simsub comes with costs of its own — handcuffing Canadian networks to the U.S. schedule, and discouraging them from producing their own high quality programming.

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READ MORE: CRTC grants access to U.S. Super Bowl commercials, but silent on future of local TV

He added that the amount Canadian broadcasters pay for the rights to the Super Bowl will also likely drop as the effects of the simsub ban take hold.

And he argued that the value of simsub itself is increasingly questionable as consumers move to other ways of watching, such as streaming services or recordings via PVR.

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“People do feel that they ought to have the right to choose, and the notion that that choice is taken away doesn’t sit well with a lot of people,” he said.

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However Geist said the battle is likely to continue through the courts, meaning the issue will likely crop up again as Super Bowl 2019 hits the horizon.


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