Canadian television viewers will once again be able to watch U.S. ads during this year's Super Bowl broadcast as Canada's top court declined to take immediate action on a controversial regulatory ruling.
For the past three years, Bell Media has been fighting a Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission policy barring it from substituting its own signal, including Canadian commercials and promotions, over the feeds of U.S. channels that air the Super Bowl in Canada.
The BCE Inc.-owned company earlier this month asked the Supreme Court of Canada for leave to appeal a federal court ruling that upheld the CRTC policy. Bell also asked the court to grant a stay of the regulator's decision, but in a brief order Wednesday, the court rejected that request.
Bell, which owns the rights to broadcast the National Football League's championship game in Canada, now says it will keep trying to overturn the CRTC ruling, but will comply with it for the Feb. 4 match-up between the New England Patriots and the Philadelphia Eagles.
"We are moving forward with a standalone broadcast of Super Bowl LII on CTV," Bell Media spokesman Scott Henderson said Friday. "Like last year, we will do everything we can to maximize the audience on our channels."
"We will continue to pursue every option to have the Super Bowl's simultaneous substitution ban reversed for 2019 and beyond," Mr. Henderson added.
The Supreme Court did grant Bell's request to expedite the hearing of its leave-to-appeal application (but that does not necessarily mean the court will hear an actual appeal on the matter). Bell has also asked the CRTC itself to reconsider its policy, but it is not clear when a decision on that application might be released.
The Super Bowl broadcast in 2017 was the first time the CRTC ruling took effect and Bell has said that its ratings for the game declined by 39 per cent and that it lost about $11-million in advertising revenue.
Mr. Henderson said Bell will air this year's game on three different channels (CTV, CTV Two and TSN2) and, as it did in 2017, will hold a "Watch to Win" contest to encourage viewership. It is also publicizing the U.S. ads on a website, BigGameAds.ca, in an effort to get Canadians to watch the big-budget spots in advance and then tune into the Canadian broadcast.
The CRTC ruling, which was announced in early 2015, came out of its "Let's Talk TV" review of Canada's television landscape. The regulator said it would ban the practice of simultaneous substitution ("simsub") during the Super Bowl starting in 2017. Some viewers had complained to the CRTC that the big-budget U.S. commercials were part of the Super Bowl experience that Canadians missed out on and the regulator changed the simsub rules specifically for the NFL's big game (along with a small handful of other sporting events).
The ruling made Bell's rights to the game less valuable because Canadian viewers could tune to the U.S. channel carrying the game and watch American ads, reducing what Bell could charge advertisers for commercials and promotion on its own Canadian stations.
Bell, along with the NFL and a coalition of creative groups and advertisers, took the CRTC decision to the courts and, last month, the Federal Court of Appeal rejected their appeal. Bell filed a notice on Jan. 2 seeking leave to appeal that decision to the Supreme Court of Canada.