Posted in Opinion, TV

CRTC Roundup: No Super Bowl loopholes this year

For the latest on Super Bowl ads on Canadian cable and satellite, click here.

Note: This post has been corrected. I originally confused the two rulings for satellite companies as being the same. In fact, the Commission ruled in different ways for the two. Thanks to Patrick for pointing out the error.

Catching up on some CRTC broadcasting news over the holidays:

A complaint filed by CTV against Bell and Shaw, which run our two national satellite TV providers, has resulted in an order from the broadcast regulator forcing the two providers to close loopholes allowing Canadian viewers to see U.S. commercials during the Super Bowl.

Last year, both Bell TV (formerly Bell ExpressVu) and Shaw’s StarChoice concocted a scheme whose logic was something like this:

  1. The CRTC requires broadcast distributors (i.e. cable and satellite companies) to use “simultaneous substitution” to replace U.S. channels with Canadian ones when both are airing the same show. This is so that Canadian networks get all the advertising money. Normally nobody cares that they’re seeing Canadian commercials instead of American ones, but the Super Bowl is the one time of the year when people want to watch the commercials. Canadian Super Bowl commercials just don’t measure up.
  2. The CRTC rules have some loopholes. The substitution is only done when requested by the Canadian network, it’s only done when the Canadian signal is of equal or better quality than the U.S. one (which caused some issues in the early days of HD), and it’s only done in markets that have a Canadian over-the-air broadcaster.
  3. CTV had high-definition broadcasters only in Toronto and Vancouver, so simultaneous substitution of the Fox HD signal is only necessary in those two markets
  4. Bell and StarChoice developed a way to substitute the signal only for Toronto and Vancouver markets, and kept the Fox HD signals unsubstituted outside those markets for the benefit of Canadians wanting to watch the U.S. Super Bowl commercials. Viewers outside those markets would be given a choice of watching a substituted signal or an unsubstituted one.

CTV complained, and the CRTC agreed, that Bell TV is required to substitute those channels nationally, even for customers in markets where there is no Canadian broadcaster carrying the HD signal, because that is the method of substitution they currently use. The company, it said, can’t decide to use one method or the other depending on which is more convenient.

It dismissed Bell’s suggestion that the Super Bowl is an exception because it’s a “pop culture phenomenon”. CTV’s response to that:

CTV added that those viewers who really want to see the U.S. commercials can download them from the Internet within minutes after their being broadcast during the game.

The result is that Bell has to assure CTV in advance that simultaneous substitution will in fact take place for SD and HD signals nationally, and that Canadian subscribers not be given access to the U.S. commercials. Period.

In the case of StarChoice, the CRTC took a different tact. Unlike Bell TV, StarChoice substitutes channels locally through the receiver. They receive the U.S. signals, but are programmed to substitute them based on local requirements. This is the CRTC’s preferred method of substitution, as it protects local broadcasters. Since StarChoice didn’t deviate from their normal practice when they allowed subscribers outside of Toronto to view the U.S. Super Bowl feed, the CRTC ruled they are in compliance.

The CRTC did slap Shaw on the wrist about its cable TV service, which it said did not properly substitute the HD signal in 2008, but accepted the explanation that there were “technical difficulties” because Shaw had only started substitution for HD signals a month before the broadcast. They’re on a form of probation for the 2009 Super Bowl, with orders to take special steps to ensure substitution takes place as required.

The Super Bowl, which I think is a game of rugby or something, airs on Feb. 1 on NBC and CTV.

More commercial substitution

An unrelated issue, which the CRTC will debate next month, concerns “local availabilities of non-Canadian services

If you’ve ever watched CNN and noticed commercials for Viewer’s Choice Pay-per-view or some other Canadian channel, this is what they’re talking about. Canadian broadcast distributors are allowed to override commercials on U.S. networks, but only to put in programming ads. They can’t put in their own commercial advertisements. At least, not yet. They’re arguing to get that privilege.

Personally, so long as the advertising substitution is negotiated with the U.S. network, and it doesn’t disrupt service, I don’t see a problem letting this happen.

Franchement

LCN has received approval to increase the amount of opinion and analysis programming during its broadcast day from 12% to 19%. CBC argued against the change, saying it would reduce the amount of news programming, which would hurt francophones outside of Quebec.

(As an aside, has anyone watched RDI and LCN and noticed how much local Montreal news and how little local news from outside Quebec are on those channels? It makes sense – that’s where their audience is – but neither is really a national news channel)

LCN argued it needs to adapt to a quickly changing media environment, which I’m sure you know favours opinionated blowhards shouting their mouths off in prime time over any sort of actual news gathering.

SitcomPix

Astral Media has received approval to add sitcom and drama programming to its MPix service, which used to be about movies. It’s limited to 15% of its content coming from those categories, and they have to be at least five years old, but I still find it kind of silly that they want to add sitcoms to a movie channel.

They’ve also gotten a reduction in the lead time between a movie’s release and the time they can start airing it, from five years to three years.

Super

SuperChannel, a pay TV network which wants to compete with The Movie Network and Movie Central, is still trying to get carried on some cable providers, including Videotron, despite an order from the CRTC that gives it “must carry” status.

Videotron has refused, citing some minority language rule that I don’t quite understand and probably doesn’t make any sense.

SuperChannel notes that Quebecor applied for a similar service and was turned down in favour of SuperChannel, and this might be payback for that rejection.

De-CanConing The Movie Network

The Movie Network has gotten approval to reduce its Canadian content requirements by getting extra credit for priority programming. This extra credit system came after the CRTC and media watchdogs noticed that Canadian broadcasters preferred certain cheap kinds of programming (like reality shows) over more expensive dramas. So the CRTC decided it would let broadcasters claim 150% credit for dramas and other expensive programming, to encourage them to create more of it.

Digital Home calls this a “weakening of Canadian content regulations“, though it’s entirely consistent with CRTC policy, as flawed as that may be.

16 thoughts on “CRTC Roundup: No Super Bowl loopholes this year

  1. Marc

    Could the over-zealous CRTC let go of some of its iron-fisted grip on broadcasters and get rid of sim-sub for good? Must both CTV (CFCF) carry, for instance, Law & Order while NBC (WPTZ) also does? I can understand why for remote, rural areas, but we don’t need that here is the big cities.

    Reply
  2. Patrick

    Actually, you’re a bit wrong. The CRTC ruling noted that Star Choice was in line with CRTC regulations for its airing of the Super Bowl in 2008. So this year, Star Choice customers outside of a 50-mile radius of Toronto will continue to be able to see the US (NBCHD) feed of the Super Bowl. This is because Star Choice uses VCO technology that enables substitution by individual receiver. Since substitution is only required for areas within range of a local OTA signal, only the Toronto area will be affected (there is a CTVHD channel in Vancouver, but SC doesn’t carry that channel).

    You are correct, however, that for Bell TV and Shaw (the cable service, not Star Choice), the NBCHD feed will not be available.

    For verification, see: http://crtc.gc.ca/eng/archive/2008/db2008-358.pdf.

    Reply
  3. John

    Local commercials over cable channels already happens in the U.S. If you watch a cable channel (CNN or ESPN, for example) down there, every few commercial breaks you’ll see a set of local ads or ads for other cable channels.

    Reply
  4. Nick Montrose

    I’m got tired of all these interruptions, so I decided to subscribe to DirecTV. All you need is a valid US address for subscription purposes. There’s a guy by my place here in Scarborough that sells the dishes and receivers, so it’s very easy to get and setup.

    Reply
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  6. Norm

    Looks like the “Loophole” was a giant crater as anyone subscribing to Shaw HD TV or StarChoice saw all the U.S. Superbowl commercials whereas anyone on Bell ExpressVue (CTV) got the shaft.

    Reply
  7. Steve

    I heard people that on Shaw were complaining about missing the trophy presentation as CrapTV cut away to local news.

    Reply
  8. Osama

    Why no hijack of Obama speech tonight? I can help CTV and Global acheive this result. They can choose from NBC, CBS, ABC or FOX. The choice is theirs. Keep me posted.

    Osama

    Reply
  9. CTV Executive

    @Osama:

    No, we skipped on that. It’s too hard to block out the original network’s logo and place our own over top of it. We don’t want to overwork our technicians… they work so hard every day on plugging into CBS, Fox, NBC and ABC, that they would be unfairly over-stimulated.

    We will look forward to your services in the future though, we are looking at ways to drop in-house newscasts and replace them with either the “CBS Evening News” or “NBC Nightly News”. Global has already called dibs on “ABC’s World News Tonight”.

    Specifically, we may need your help with using an illegally-downloaded Adobe Premiere software copy to blur out the CBS/NBC logo and replace it with our own. We’ve just been using a gray opaque cover-up recently, but find that viewers are noticing this and complaining.

    Thanks again O-Bin!

    Reply
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  11. Mike

    Fact: Canada has a major league baseball team. Fact: CTV does not use this CRTC legislation to interupt any MLB playoff broadcasting from American networks. (the same applies to the NBA playoffs). It is either all or nothing CTV – you should not be permitted to hide behind the CRTC and “cherry pick” only progarms that earn you big dollars. It is appauling that anyone would be allowed to do this, especially considering your campaign to “save local tv” and recieve even more Gov’t protection and our tax dollars to keep your business going. If you cannot compete in your market, then you either change or you go away. Consumers, not the CRTC or the Gov’t make this choice.

    Fact: CTV says that the advertising dollars generated by signal sbustituion are re-invested in “quality Canadian made programs”
    Reality: The money is used to purchase braodcasting rights from US networks to keep the revenue flow going from the advertising dollars – the only program that is made in Canada that is in the top 20 in this country for viewership is the CTV National News.

    The CRTC effectively allows CTV and other netwroks in Canada to operate in a cartel – they get to pick and choose what programs they want to purchase, and then hide behind legislation that was created to promote Canadian talent (TV and Radio) in our country. The issue is not just about the Superbowl, but the entire legislation. How can the gov’t and CRTC (same entity) allow cable and sattelite companies to charge people a premium for HD broadcasting (among other cable channels) yet, offer no protection to the end user to ensure they are actually getting what they are paying for?

    Reply
    1. Fagstein Post author

      It is either all or nothing CTV – you should not be permitted to hide behind the CRTC and “cherry pick” only progarms that earn you big dollars.

      You want them to be forced to carry bad U.S. programming that nobody’s going to watch?

      Reply
      1. GS

        You seemed to have missed Mikes most important point.
        ” …legislation that was created to promote Canadian talent (TV and Radio) in our country. The issue is not just about the Superbowl, but the entire legislation.
        If CTV/Global wants to air the Game then let them, just do not censor the American feed. SOMETHING I PAY FOR. Where is my consumer protection?
        Thanks

        Reply
  12. GS

    Did anybody notice that the communist CTV and CRTC decided NOT to enforce their commie rules during the Vancouver Winter Olympics in 2010.
    Do not want to show the world, what ACTUALLY happens in this country.
    Hypocrites.

    Reply
    1. Fagstein Post author

      Did anybody notice that the communist CTV and CRTC decided NOT to enforce their commie rules during the Vancouver Winter Olympics in 2010.

      Simultaneous substitution requires identical programming. CTV and NBC each did their own programming during the Olympics, hence substitution doesn’t apply. It’s a similar situation during the Stanley Cup playoffs, when CBC and NBC have their own separate coverage.

      Reply

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