… And Super Bowl commercials for all

Marketing and advertising professionals in the United States should be high-fiving each other over recent developments in Canada. They aren’t, of course, because Americans tend not to notice what happens here unless it involves a crack-smoking mayor.

But for any U.S. marketing types that might be reading, this country’s telecommunications regulator, the CRTC, has decided Canadians will have the right, starting in 2017, to watch American commercials during the Super Bowl.

“Canadians have told us loud and clear: the advertising is part of the spectacle associated with that event,” CRTC Chairman Jean-Pierre Blais said (subscribers only) during a speech this week.

In other words, being marketed to by foreign interests is part of what makes this sporting competition exciting, and Canadians shall not be denied.

The whole thing brings into question how interested a good portion of Super Bowl viewers are in the actual game, if the commercials are such an issue. A few of the sporting events that were must-sees for me over the last year were the gold-medal hockey games at the world junior championships and the Olympics. I don’t remember what commercials were shown, nor was that even a fraction of a per cent of the reason I watched.

Nevertheless, people like what they like, and the CRTC has its finger firmly on the national pulse. Yes, I am taking a bit of pleasure in mocking the absurd aspects of this, yet there is some sense to it as well. The commercials that are shown during the Super Bowl are entertaining and Canadians don’t get to see many of them. (They are available on YouTube, but people like them to be part of the whole Super Bowl Sunday experience.) For the CRTC, opening Canada up to American commercials with two years notice probably seemed like an easy way to make people happy without kicking up too much fuss.

To keep simultaneous substitution — where Canadian feeds are shown on American channels broadcasting the same program to maximize the value of domestic advertising — with the exception of this one event a year probably didn’t seem like a radical move to Blais.

Yet Bell Media, which has rights to show the Super Bowl on CTV for the next several years, is not amused. Spokesman Scott Henderson told The Wire Report that the company is “extremely disappointed” and that “the government is damaging the future of local television in Canada while rewarding U.S. corporations over homegrown companies.”

Some were happy the CRTC didn’t completely eliminate simultaneous substitution, given that this was an option on the table.

Rogers (a non-Super Bowl-showing broadcaster, by the way) said it was “pleased” by the CRTC’s decision and would ensure it minimizes programming mishaps caused by simultaneous substitution.

Note that the CRTC promised to get tough with broadcasters that screw up programming during a simultaneous substitution, such as missing a play during a game while a commercial runs. It said broadcasters that mess things up will lose their rights to substitute for periods of time and have to compensate viewers.

The Alliance of Canadian Cinema, Television and Radio Artists (ACTRA) said the CRTC’s decision on simsub “balances the wishes of Canadian audiences with the vital need to continue to support the Canadian broadcast system.”

That said, broadcast consultant Kelly Lynne Ashton warned that taking away simultaneous substitution, even once a year for the Super Bowl, will result in a loss of funding for domestic content development, given that Bell Media is “a fairly important supporter of Canadian programming.”

Let’s remember that this doesn’t happen for two years. Given how much television consumption patterns have changed in the last few years, it will be interesting to see if this decision seems like such a big deal when it actually takes effect. Who knows? It might have implications beyond what’s apparent, or the whole issue might be moot by then.

The CRTC seemed to imply that the decisions it took this week, which also included incentives to maintain over-the-air signals from conventional broadcasters, were short-term measures in an uncertain environment. It said in a press release that it is “clear that the schedule-driven model of the past is changing and a more viewer-centric and on-demand model is emerging. As such, the CRTC does not expect over-the-air television and simultaneous substitution to be around indefinitely.”

But we’ll cross those bridges when we need to. For now (and by now, I mean in two years) the important thing is that Canadians are able to watch commercials as cool as these (YouTube, no subscription required).

Derek Abma is editor of The Wire Report. He can be reached at dabma@thewirereport.ca.

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