It’s the one time during the year that people really care. But there’s no change from last year. People who want to watch U.S. Super Bowl commercials on cable or satellite TV in Montreal are out of luck once again, because of CRTC rules.
For those unfamiliar, the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission forces cable and satellite providers to perform simultaneous substitution — replacing U.S. channels’ feeds with Canadian ones when both are running the same programming — in areas served by local television stations. The purpose is to keep advertising dollars for Canadian viewing in Canada, so they can support the Canadian broadcast system. And 364 days a year nobody cares because there isn’t much of demand for local ads for businesses in Vermont or ads for DirecTV.
The Super Bowl is different because of all the hype surrounding its incredibly expensive advertising. But that alone doesn’t create an exception to the rules. So TV providers will have to do substitution during Sunday’s Super Bowl, forcing viewers to watch commercials from CTV instead of the originating American network. And cable and satellite providers will have to continue to calmly explain to irate subscribers that they’re only doing what they’re required to do by the CRTC, who will in turn have to explain what “simultaneous substitution” is and why it’s there.
CTV’s CFCF Montreal is carrying the Super Bowl (as is every other CTV station), so simultaneous substitution is mandatory in the area covered by its signal. That includes Greater Montreal, as well as (for Videotron anyway) areas like Lachute, Sorel and Granby.
And even though CTV is promising its own commercial goodies during the Super Bowl show, like announcing who’s going to host the Junos, and an “exclusively Canadian” ad from PepsiCo about Lay’s potato chips, Canadians from coast to coast will grumble about not having access to those multimillion-dollar ads airing in the U.S.
So how do you get around it? Here’s how:
Over the air
The simplest way of getting a U.S. network signal on Super Bowl Sunday is to pick it up over the air with an antenna. The government can stop a lot of things at the border, but the electromagnetic spectrum isn’t one of them.
This year, the Super Bowl is being carried on CBS, which is good because WCAX-TV in Burlington has a 443-kilowatt transmitter on top of Mount Mansfield, which reaches into the city if you have a good enough antenna. Because it’s a digital signal, your television will need a digital tuner (most HDTVs have this). WCAX is on Channel 22, or virtual channel 3.1.
Videotron (analog and digital)
Videotron has resisted substitution, especially for the Super Bowl, and does so only when absolutely necessary. Still, it is required to substitute both the standard and high-definition feeds in the area covered by CFCF.
This means all customers in the following areas will see their signals substituted:
- Montreal and on-island suburbs
- The north shore
- The south shore
- St. Jérôme
- St. Jean sur Richelieu
Quebecers outside of Montreal (as defined above) and the Gatineau region (which is part of the footprint of CJOH Ottawa) will not have their signals substituted and will be able to watch the American ads on CBS channels.
Other cable providers (including Bell Fibe)
Same as Videotron, I’m afraid. They don’t have a choice in the matter. Whether they substitute their entire network or only where they have to is up to them.
Bell Satellite TV
Because Bell feeds the same data to all its customers via satellite, it is required (as of 2009) to substitute American feeds with Canadian ones nationwide. So even if you’re in an area not covered by a CTV station, you’re still going to see the CTV ads.
Because Shaw Direct includes technology allowing the provider to control what signals individual clients receive, it can implement simultaneous substitution selectively. The result will be similar to cable: substitution in areas covered by CTV stations, no substitution elsewhere.
American satellite providers (DirecTV, Dish Network)
These are technically illegal in Canada, but many people have found ways to get service north of the border, either by pirating them or using fake U.S. addresses. Since these are American providers, the CRTC doesn’t control them.
The only legal way to get the Super Bowl itself online is through CTV.ca (which is streaming NFL playoffs for the first time this year). There will probably be black-market feeds, but their quality probably won’t match the HD signal you’ll get on cable or over the air.
The ads are another story. YouTube has a special site devoted to Super Bowl ads that you can watch whenever you want, in high definition. They have promised to make the ads available as soon as they air on TV, and some are already there.
Because most of the loopholes have been closed, there aren’t many bars advertising the American version of the game anymore. To provide a high-definition feed in Montreal, they would either have to set up an antenna capable of receiving the American station or subscribe to an American satellite service and hope nobody notices.
At least one bar in Montreal is promising U.S. ads. If you spot others, let me know in the comments.
There are also methods that have no guarantee of success. You could try watching west-coast feeds. Some cable companies offer Seattle stations as a way to time-shift, and then forget to do substitution for live events like this. But broadcasters have become wise to people using this loophole. Videotron is certainly aware of it and will be substituting this channel.
You could also, I suppose, just go to Vermont or New York for the weekend and watch the Super Bowl there.