The proposed revisions to the North American trade deal includes an agreement to once again block glitzy American ads from many Canadian TV screens during the Super Bowl.
The new United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement announced on Sunday includes a commitment to rescind an order from the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission that phased out “simultaneous substitution” during the big game. The change was first announced in 2015 and took effect starting with the 2017 Super Bowl broadcast. It has been the subject of continuing court challenges from Bell Media – which holds the rights to the National Football League’s championship game in Canada – along with a coalition including the NFL, creative groups and advertisers.
“Simsub,” as the practice is sometimes known, allows cable and satellite companies to swap out signals from U.S. channels, giving prominence to the Canadian signal when a Canadian broadcaster is airing the same program at the same time. The common practice guarantees that broadcasters who pay for the Canadian broadcast rights for a program, can reach the widest possible audience for that program and therefore recoup more money through advertising sales.
“Canada may not accord the [Super Bowl] program treatment less favourable than the treatment accorded to other programs originating in the United States retransmitted in Canada,” the agreement states.
Bell has said that its ratings for the 2017 game fell 39 per cent compared with the year before, and that its ad revenue for the high-profile broadcast fell by approximately $11-million.
“We thank the government of Canada for overturning an unfortunate decision by the regulator,” Bell spokesperson Marc Choma wrote in an e-mailed statement on Monday. “It’s a positive outcome for content creators, advertisers and the overall Canadian broadcasting industry.”
Bell has been selling ads up until now on the assumption that signal-swapping would not be in place for the game in February. The new agreement must be ratified by the legislatures in Canada, the United States and Mexico before it can take effect; if that occurs before the game on Feb. 3, 2019, Bell will presumably revisit existing agreements with advertisers and shift its sales strategy to account for a larger expected audience for its broadcast.
The CRTC declined requests for comment on Monday, referring all questions to Global Affairs Canada. Global Affairs did not respond to questions about this part of the agreement.
The move came out of the CRTC’s “Let’s Talk TV” hearings, which considered the future of Canadian TV regulatory policy. During that process, the regulator heard from some viewers who complained about not seeing the big-budget ads that are considered by many to be part of the entertainment during the U.S. Super Bowl broadcast. Bell and others challenged the decision to strip away simsub for this event, saying that it degraded the value of broadcast rights that Bell had already paid for and prevented Canadian advertisers from reaching viewers. They also pointed out that many of those ads are available to watch for free online.
After the Federal Court of Appeal rejected the coalition’s appeal of the CRTC decision late last year, Bell filed a notice in January seeking leave to appeal that decision to the Supreme Court of Canada, which was approved but has not yet been heard.
“We’re looking at all options, including the ongoing legal process,” Mr. Choma said in an e-mail.