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Why can’t I watch the American ads during the Super Bowl?


SuperbowlBlog-2The Super Bowl is perhaps the only time of year when Canadians complain that they don’t see enough advertising.  Ok, maybe they aren’t complaining about the insufficiency of advertising, but they are complaining that they can’t see specific advertisements, namely the American much-hyped expensive ads which premier during the Super Bowl.  For most Canadians when they watch the Super Bowl this weekend, whether they tune in to the US network CBS or to their local CTV station, they will only see the Canadian “version” of the broadcast which replaces the advertising in the originating US broadcast for Canadian advertisements.  The reason this happens (in a lot of programming, not just the Super Bowl) relates to a regulatory regime called simultaneous substitution.

When a Canadian broadcaster buys the rights for a broadcast in Canada and they air the program on the same day and at the same time at the US broadcast, then they are entitled to require that all television distributors, such as cable, satellite or IPTV services, substitute the foreign signal for the Canadian signal for the duration of that program.  The distributors must comply with such requests from Canadian broadcasters.  For distributors, there is no opting-out of performing the substitution even though they know it is an annoyance to their customers (which is only slightly abated by the fact that the Super Bowl ads are now generally available on the web and social media shortly after their broadcast if not before).

The simultaneous substitution regime (or “sim sub” for short) was put in place in order to protect the content rights purchased by Canadian broadcasters and enables them to monetize these rights through sale of their own advertising.  If Canadians had the choice of watching the Super Bowl unaltered, with the American ads, CTV’s ability to monetize the Canadian version would be significantly diminished.  Ensuring that advertising is fully monetized in Canada ensures the viability of Canadian broadcasters and investment in Canadian programming.  That is why the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) established the sim sub regime many years ago.  The CRTC explains the rationale of this regime in a special fact sheet relating to the Super Bowl on the front page of its website.

The sim sub regime is one of the many issues which are likely to be discussed in the CRTC’s review of the television regulatory framework which was launched last Fall.  A report of the comments of Canadians in the first phase of the CRTC’s proceeding has been posted on the CRTC’s website.  The next phase of its review will be a questionnaire which will invite Canadians to consider various ideas and “weigh some of the tough choices that may need to be made.” The CRTC states on its Let’s Talk TV webpage that the questionnaire will be posted on its website in February 2014.