Besides the weather, it is Canadians' favourite thing to complain about at this time of year. During Super Bowl commercial breaks, Americans see adorable baby animals, slightly less adorable computer-animated babies and a long line of celebrities cashing cheques. But in Canada, viewers are stuck with the usual ads and promos for The Big Bang Theory.
The reason is "simultaneous substitution," a rule that allows domestic networks such as CTV and CITY-TV to ask cable and satellite TV distributors to swap out an American station's signal (and commercials) for their own, if the Canadian station is airing the same program at the same time. The process means that Canadian viewers miss out on some of North America's best new television advertising during football's annual championship – and the country's federal broadcast regulator is tired of taking the blame.
On Friday, chairman Jean-Pierre Blais wrote a letter to Rogers Communications Inc. asking that it stop pointing the finger at the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission when viewers complain about being forced to watch Canadian signals on U.S. channels.
Mr. Blais wrote that "the time has come for broadcasters and distributors to start speaking up on simultaneous substitution rather than simply passing blame onto the CRTC."
This time of year is a PR headache for the commission as complaints about the system skyrocket, largely because of the NFL playoffs. With reports that advertisers spend roughly $4-million (U.S.) for 30 seconds of advertising time during the Super Bowl broadcast, for some the commercials are part of the fun of watching the big game. But Canadians have to take to the internet or a TV antenna to see them.
Mr. Blais's letter was the result of an exchange on Twitter this week. On Jan. 19, during the broadcast of the NFL playoff game that sent the Seattle Seahawks to the final, a Rogers cable customer tweeted a message to the company's customer service complaining about seeing CTV's commercials on the Fox television feed.
"It's due to the CRTC rules so no way to watch the Fox feed sorry," a Rogers representative replied.
The rules, however, are more complex: TV networks are the ones who ask for substitution. They have the right to do so because of CRTC regulations, but the regulator says it does not force cable and satellite companies to swap the signals.
Networks ask for it because it protects their ability to sell ads, which is crucial to their business model: If the U.S. networks' feeds were left in place, Canadian networks – who pay good money for the rights to broadcast The Big Bang Theory or a big sports match here – could not promise advertisers as large an audience for their programs.
A Rogers spokesperson said the company is "reviewing its processes" to make sure that it gives accurate information to customers about why simultaneous substitution occurs.
"Simsubs allow for the carriage of U.S. signals in Canada which are popular with our customers while at the same time preserving the Canadian rights market and the health of the Canadian broadcasting system," Rogers spokesperson Patricia Trott said in an e-mailed statement.
Mr. Blais had asked Rogers to explain how its customer service representatives are trained, and what information they have on the rules. His letter also said that "it would be appreciated if you could remind your customer service representatives that broadcasters choose whether to substitute signals and that both the broadcaster and the distributor are responsible for the quality of the substitution."
Editor's note: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated advertisers spend $4-billion (U.S.) for 30 seconds of advertising time.