Canadian Super Bowl ads: A statistical analysis

It was the third year in a row that Bell Media was stuck in its impossible position: One of the biggest television events of the year and half its audience is watching it on a channel it doesn’t control because those people want desperately to avoid Bell Media’s advertisements.

Though the USMCA specifically requires the abolishment of the CRTC’s special rule forbidding simultaneous substitution during the Super Bowl (the Trump administration added it at the request of the NFL, which would see the value of the Canadian rights to the NFL drop significantly if the rule were kept in place), the new trade deal hasn’t been ratified, and the commission isn’t going to act until it is.

If the USMCA is ratified this year (which is a big if), this could be the last time Canadians watching on cable will get to see big-budget ads from T-Mobile and other advertisers that have no interest in Canada.

I followed both the Canadian (TSN5) and U.S. (WCAX-TV Burlington) versions of the Super Bowl broadcast live to compare the two. Bell had no plans for a watch-to-win contest or other gimmick to get Canadians to tune in to its broadcast, and there weren’t many big announcements about big-budget Canadian ads (Bell pointed to one featuring Michael Bublé, but that ad also aired in the U.S.), so I was curious about the quality of the ads that would be broadcast.

Here is a playlist of all the ads I could find on YouTube that aired on CFCF-DT Montreal during the Super Bowl game (between kickoff and the end of the game, when the simsub exception applies).

Some of the ads were Super Bowl ads that appeared on both sides of the border, including one for Marvel’s Avengers: Endgame, an Olay commercial featuring Sarah Michelle Gellar, a Colgate ad with Luke Wilson, an ad for Persil ProClean, a teaser for the Amazon Prime series Hanna (which aired simultaneously in both countries) and a 30-second version of a Budweiser ad touting renewable energy.

For just the Super Bowl-style new ads that appeared only on the Canadian broadcast, you can follow this playlist.

Among the Canadian-only ads that tried something new for the Super Bowl:

But probably the one that is most newsworthy is this ad from Unifor that straight-up attacks General Motors for closing its Oshawa plant, saying “we’ll never forget your greed.”

The quality of the Canadian ads is improving. More businesses are trying to make a go at longer, slower, more emotional or funny ads that keep you guessing what they’re advertising until the end. And some of those are succeeding while others fail.

On the other hand there were also plenty of completely forgettable car ads, some ads that are years old, or hard sells that were clearly done with no budget.

Some stats

As I published a Twitter thread Sunday night listing the ads for both Canadian and U.S. broadcasts, the number of CTV and Bell ads (including Virgin Mobile, The Source, Crave, etc.) had some speculating that CTV couldn’t sell its inventory and filled airtime with house ads instead.

I don’t know how much of inventory Bell Media sold for the game, but a few things to keep in mind:

  1. The number of ads for Bell properties and services was higher on TSN (the feed I used in the Twitter thread) than CTV, which had some local ads mixed in.
  2. Many of the Bell ads were 5- or 10-second fillers at the end of ad breaks
  3. On CTV Montreal, the Bell ads made up about 20% of the total airtime, which doesn’t seem excessive (it’s 17% if you exclude those short bumpers)
  4. CBS also had a lot of house ads — 30 of 102 by my count, including ads for Showtime. Many of those ads came in the same blocks as local ads in the Vermont feed, so were probably part of local availabilities.
  5. Many of Bell’s internal ads were clearly meant for the Super Bowl. Like CBS, CTV and its sister channels used the opportunity to make announcements about new and returning series, including Jann, Whiskey Cavalier, The Enemy Within, Masterchef Canada, I am the Night, The Voice and Game of Thrones.

That doesn’t mean Bell made all the money it could, though. Its ratings are still in the four-million range across English-language channels, two million below what they were before the simsub exception was put in place. The loss of audience is still costing Bell millions of dollars a year.

Based on my recording of CFCF-DT (CTV Montreal) between kickoff at 6:32pm and the end of the game at 10:04pm, here’s how it breaks down statistically:

  • Total broadcast length (kickoff to end of game): 3 hours, 32 minutes
  • Total ad time: 3445 seconds (57 minutes, 25 seconds), or 27%
  • Total ad breaks: 26 (or 27 if you count two breaks a few seconds apart)
  • Longest ads: 90 seconds, President’s Choice (aired twice) and a Crave version of Game of Thrones Crypts of Winterfell
  • Shortest ads: 5-second bumpers for Bell and CTV channels and closed captioning promos for Nissan and GMC
  • Ads for Bell products (Bell, Virgin Mobile, CTV, Bravo, Space, Crave, The Source, etc.): 715 seconds (20.8% of total)
  • Ads for Bell products excluding ads of 10 seconds or less: 570 of 3270 seconds (17.4%)
  • Local ads (that didn’t also broadcast on TSN feed): 315 seconds (9%)
  • CBS house ads (measured as total number of spots regardless of length): 30/102

No easy solution

It might be moot in a while — especially as more audience moves online, where the control of territorial rights is more strict and the CRTC doesn’t have a say — but until then, there’s no simple solution that would make everyone happy. Bell could encourage more U.S. big-game advertisers to put their ads on the Canadian feed, but some giants like T-Mobile and Hulu have no interest in paying for airtime to reach an audience that can’t buy its product.

Bell also can’t suddenly grow Canada’s economy 10-fold so that Canadian advertisers have the budgets to spend millions on creative ads. And even then, half the audience is watching the American feed, so why would Canadian advertisers bother when they can do ads during the World Juniors or Olympics instead?

There may be more technological solutions in our future — ways for Canadians to watch the big U.S. ads in a more seamless way while still respecting exclusive broadcast rights. Until then, we’re stuck in this awkwardness.

So watch the U.S. ads. And the Canadian ones too.

A playlist of the U.S. Super Bowl ads is here:

14 thoughts on “Canadian Super Bowl ads: A statistical analysis

  1. kv

    the crtc should;

    1) require all cable and satellite companies to advise customers and potential customers that not all over the air channels are available on cable or satellite. 2 ) require all cable and satellite companies to advise their customers that they may view the superbowl ( and accompanying commercials ) as is by viewing them on a local ( cbs wivb channel 4 buffalo ny ? as an example ) station available by antenna. 3) advise same customers who or which companies fought this idea the most, i.e. bell. 4) encourage all cable and satellite companies to offer antenna installations specifically geared at receiving channels that are not available on cable or satellite currently and to also advise them that they may view the original superbowl commercials if they choose the additional antenna installation option. 5) have a law passed similar to the fcc rule which states that no restrictions can be placed on antenna installations in private residences. https://www.fcc.gov/media/over-air-reception-devices-rule . i’m surprised some bars which show the superbowl and are in a position to put an antenna on their roof don’t advertise that they show the original or american commercials.

    /my opinion

    Reply
  2. Dilbert

    So here’s the question: If CTV still gets 4 million viewers without Simsub, what’s the problem? If that is the number of people watching, they should negotiate a rights deal based on it and work with it…

    Simsub is a sad excuse for milking advertisers for more money and basically sending most of that money south to pay for programming.

    Reply
    1. Fagstein Post author

      So here’s the question: If CTV still gets 4 million viewers without Simsub, what’s the problem?

      It’s not 6 million.

      If that is the number of people watching, they should negotiate a rights deal based on it and work with it

      And they probably will, once the current deal with the NFL expires. (It’s unclear when that is.) This is why the NFL has gotten involved, because the price for Canadian rights to the Super Bowl will go down significantly.

      Simsub is a sad excuse for milking advertisers for more money and basically sending most of that money south to pay for programming.

      Canadian broadcasters are required to spend a good portion of their revenues — about 30% generally — on Canadian programming. The ads that Canadians watch on U.S. channels result in $0 going toward Canadian programming if they’re not substituted.

      Reply
      1. Dilbert

        The 30% number is nice, but it’s often BS – money spent with partner companies, joint ventures, and other areas which means the money moves around but never really leaves their hands. Bell is in pretty deep with their “fund” that was basically being run by their own people. Not really productive.

        4 million Canadians chose to watch Canadian ads. Canadian channels can put on good programming at the right times and get plenty of viewers and plenty of income. They could even spend, who knows, 80% of their programming on Canadian… right now, most of the money goes south. The 30% number is really low when you think about where most of the money goes – right out of the country.

        Reply
        1. Fagstein Post author

          The 30% number is nice, but it’s often BS – money spent with partner companies, joint ventures, and other areas which means the money moves around but never really leaves their hands.

          I’m not sure what you’re referring to here. Some of that money is spent using in-house productions, like local news, but it’s hard to argue that they keep the money, since it’s used to pay for salaries, overhead and equipment for local newsrooms.

          And the CRTC requires that a large part of spending, particularly on scripted programming, be spent on independent producers.

          Bell is in pretty deep with their “fund” that was basically being run by their own people.

          Two thirds of the directors of the Bell Fund have no connection with Bell, as is required by CRTC regulation.

          The 30% number is really low when you think about where most of the money goes – right out of the country.

          Arguing that Canadian broadcasters spend too much money on American programming is like arguing that restaurants spend too much money on food. That’s what makes them money. If they spent less acquiring U.S. programming, their revenues would be much lower and they’d spend even less on Canadian shows.

          Reply
          1. Dilbert

            I think you need to look back at:

            https://crtc.gc.ca/eng/archive/2019/2019-1.htm?_ga=2.57844010.1827125092.1549806355-1819955220.1548145833

            Basically, the Bell Fund wasn’t independent enough, and had to make changed including changing board members and/or structure to be compliant. Even then, their compliance is bare minimum and not any more.

            “Arguing that Canadian broadcasters spend too much money on American programming is like arguing that restaurants spend too much money on food.”

            Not at all. It’s complaining that the restaurant imports all it’s food from overseas, and doesn’t support local farmers. Moreover, their money is only made because the overseas companies are banned from operating in Canada, and anyone who want that is forced to the only restaurant in town with a monopoly on that particular dish.

            ” If they spent less acquiring U.S. programming, their revenues would be much lower and they’d spend even less on Canadian shows.”

            Not proven. This is the assertion made, but it’s hard to prove because no network in Canada is doing it any other way. There are a number of truly Canadian productions which have done well and get great audiences, but because there is little demand (Because so much money is flowing to the US) that we don’t get enough to know if they would be financially viable or not.

            “it’s hard to argue that they keep the money, since it’s used to pay for salaries, overhead and equipment for local newsrooms.”

            Bell in particular has taken even chance possible to limit expenditures on these areas – they cut staff, centralize production and switching, and were slow as could be to switch to HD. Others like Global are doing the same. Cut, cut, cut… and then when people tune out because the content is so poor, they wonder why.

            The problems of broadcast TV and Canadian networks are mostly related to those who run them and the process by which they attempt to pad the bottom line with little consideration to the product they sell. It’s like your restaurant example, they steaks keep getting smaller, the fresh fries have been replaced with frozen, and the veggies are 4 days old. Wonder why nobody is coming to eat?

            Reply
            1. Fagstein Post author

              Basically, the Bell Fund wasn’t independent enough, and had to make changed including changing board members and/or structure to be compliant. Even then, their compliance is bare minimum and not any more.

              This was true, because of a seat vacancy that was not filled quickly enough. But a majority of members were still not Bell employees.

              This is the assertion made, but it’s hard to prove because no network in Canada is doing it any other way.

              CHCH tried to go all-news during the day. It failed. Sun News Network was 100% Canadian. It failed. CBC is almost entirely Canadian programming in prime time, but it doesn’t come close to making a profit on that programming. There’s plenty of data out there to make simple and obvious conclusions that original dramatic programming doesn’t make money on free-to-air television in Canada, and only wishful thinking suggesting the opposite.

              There are a number of truly Canadian productions which have done well and get great audiences, but because there is little demand (Because so much money is flowing to the US) that we don’t get enough to know if they would be financially viable or not.

              Can you name one “truly” Canadian production that has gotten an audience large enough to sustain itself financially?

              Bell in particular has taken even chance possible to limit expenditures on these areas – they cut staff, centralize production and switching, and were slow as could be to switch to HD. Others like Global are doing the same. Cut, cut, cut… and then when people tune out because the content is so poor, they wonder why.

              One thing about the money-based quota is that if these companies are cutting in, say, local news overhead, they have to spend more elsewhere. With CTV, we’re seeing more spending on original Canadian dramas and more Canadian daytime programming.

              Reply
              1. Dilbert

                “There’s plenty of data out there to make simple and obvious conclusions that original dramatic programming doesn’t make money on free-to-air television in Canada, and only wishful thinking suggesting the opposite.”

                All news is a tough one. It is dominated by cable channels that collect income from all the subscribers, even those who don’t want the channel. They also have incredibly wide coverage. It’s hard to compare.

                Pointing to news only channels and saying “it won’t work” is misleading at best, a total crock at worse. CBC isn’t any better a comparison, it runs programming in prime time that few have any interest in. They are PAINFULLY Canadian, and seem to make few efforts to improve.

                Better examples might be CIty-TV in Toronto, which built itself up from nothing with local news, programming, talk shows, movies every night in prime time, and such. As part of the CHUM group, they did a very good job and were more than strong enough for Bell to fork over just this side of 2 billion for all that they had built. Of course, like everything else Bell has been involved in, everything has been gutted back to the walls, so there is no current comparison.

                “Can you name one “truly” Canadian production that has gotten an audience large enough to sustain itself financially?”

                19-2 would be a good current example. How about some of the good things at CBC like Rick Mercer, This Hour, and the like? They continue to be made because people tune in to watch them. Put Mercer on CTV with the internal push they give American programs, and he would probably rule the time slot.

                “One thing about the money-based quota is that if these companies are cutting in, say, local news overhead, they have to spend more elsewhere.”

                No, what you are generally seeing is “left pocket, right pocket” transactions with affiliated companies, so the money never actually gets spent. Bell (and Global) are vertically integrated and have various production companies which actually generate the content – but they are often partially or entirely owned by the mothership or one of it’s many tentacles.

                it’s the nature of the vertical integration that makes many of the arguments hard to swallow: Local stations are losing money, but local stations also have lost most of their local ad sales staff, make effectively no local production outside of news, and have little or nothing to offer the local marketplaces. They have been sliced, diced, and julienned until there is nothing left to make money with except as place holders for SImSub American programming.

                Could a local station (as a network affiliate) make money? We will likely never know the truth because those animals are rare to non-existent these days. Anything that makes money gets gobbled up by the big players – and then gutted like a fish fresh out of the net.

                Essentially, Bell and the other players have gotten fat on monopoly or duopoly plays in cable, in distribution, and such, taking profit at each step along the way – the only ones losing out are the consumers that have to shoulder the burden. The CRTC tried to wean them off of the streams of cash from package cable subscribers who never watch the actual channels, but so far it’s not working – why should it, the cable companies are owned by the same people as those who own the channels.

              2. Fagstein Post author

                Better examples might be CIty-TV in Toronto, which built itself up from nothing with local news, programming, talk shows, movies every night in prime time, and such. As part of the CHUM group, they did a very good job and were more than strong enough for Bell to fork over just this side of 2 billion for all that they had built. Of course, like everything else Bell has been involved in, everything has been gutted back to the walls, so there is no current comparison.

                Of course City has never been profitable and still loses money for Rogers. CTV bought CHUM for the radio and specialty assets. (Bell has never owned City.)

                19-2 would be a good current example.

                19-2 received $14,173,271 in funding from the Canada Media Fund — and that’s just the English adaptation. There’s no way that series would have paid for itself.

                Put Mercer on CTV with the internal push they give American programs, and he would probably rule the time slot.

                That’s probably true. Mercer got about a million viewers on CBC, and CTV’s answer in that time slot gets a bit higher than that. I don’t have data to compare their costs.

                Bell (and Global) are vertically integrated and have various production companies which actually generate the content – but they are often partially or entirely owned by the mothership or one of it’s many tentacles.

                Can you give examples of these production companies, and how much they’re defrauding the system by claiming money is spent when it isn’t? I’ve seen little evidence of this myself.

                Could a local station (as a network affiliate) make money? We will likely never know the truth because those animals are rare to non-existent these days.

                You make it seem as if these facts are unconnected. There are independent TV stations in Canada — NTV, CHEK, CHCH, and network affiliates owned by Pattison, Stingray and Dougall Media. And they’re making valiant efforts at producing local programming. But none of them are very profitable, if at all.

              3. Dilbert

                “19-2 received $14,173,271 in funding from the Canada Media Fund — and that’s just the English adaptation. There’s no way that series would have paid for itself.”

                38 episodes… not shabby at right around $500,000 an episode. On Bravo, it was pulling in a very big audience (200,000 plus per episode) – and remember, Bravo is one of those cable channels getting money piled on it from package cable.

                Remember also that the show as been sold around the world. You can be sure and certain that it has been a profitable enterprise for everyone involved, otherwise it wouldn’t have seen 4 seasons.

                The key here is this: Bell has to have someone on the air at all times on their channels. If 30% of it has to be Canadian, They can choose to do it right, or they can produce stuff that is on par with “Snow Job” – you know, we must fill the time content. Without commitment to make good content and pay for it at reasonable levels, it will always be a failure.

                “You make it seem as if these facts are unconnected. There are independent TV stations in Canada — NTV, CHEK, CHCH, and network affiliates owned by Pattison, Stingray and Dougall Media. And they’re making valiant efforts at producing local programming. But none of them are very profitable, if at all.”

                They aren’t profitable in no small part because the system built through regulatory capture by Bell and others is tilted heavily towards the multi-channel cable universe. For two decades now, many of the channels have existed only to fill out packages and to provide the “variety” dictated by the CRTC. It sucks up a huge amount of money, and creates competition for independent channels. Bell, Rogers, and others have dozens (if not hundreds) of oars in the water, and against that background, independent stations have a very hard time to compete.

                You seem to want to ignore how we got here, why it makes it hard for local stations and indepenents, and why Bell and Rogers LOVE it that way – and they have worked through purchases, mergers, and such to assure that it works that way.

              4. Fagstein Post author

                38 episodes… not shabby at right around $500,000 an episode.

                That’s not their cost, that’s their CMF subsidy. It doesn’t include the fee from Bell Media to acquire the rights, nor other subsidies like tax credits or payments as part of Bell’s various tangible benefits obligations (except those that went through the CMF).

  3. Shia Dipleens

    Canadian broadcasters are required to spend a good portion of their revenues — about 30% generally –

    what does that get these days… centrally produced local news in Toronto for the country for Canadian channels, that results in massive errors and mistakes, and these Toronto-based anchors have no knowledge of the local area they are supposed to pretend to be reporting for.
    A green screen can only fool viewers for so long.

    Reply
    1. Fagstein Post author

      Canadian content quotas do include local and national news, but also Canadian drama, comedy, documentary, sports, reality and other programming.

      Reply

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