Analysis: Comparing Super Bowl ads on CTV and FOX

Well, it’s over. After weeks of arguing over whether letting Canadians watch U.S. Super Bowl ads was something we want as a society (often using dubious arguments on either side), Sunday saw the actual broadcast of the first Super Bowl in decades that wasn’t substituted on Canadian television.

The result was predictable. While the U.S. broadcast saw a slight decline in viewership and RDS saw a slight increase (to a new record), CTV saw its audience decline 39% from last year to 4.47 million. Since Nielsen doesn’t track Canadians, and nobody is compiling Fox numbers with Canada’s Numeris, we don’t know exactly how many were watching the U.S. feed, but 40% sounds about as predicted. (Another survey put the number around 33%)

CTV tried to think big to keep viewers on its broadcast, throwing $300,000 in prize money at the problem. That might have worked (it got more than a million entries), but the contest caused problems for many users early on who got errant notifications that their texts were rejected because they didn’t come in time. Bell tells the Globe and Mail it was a glitch, that the entries were valid, and that it was fixed by the second quarter.

But as much as Watch to Win hosts Kate Beirness and Tessa Bonhomme did their best through at least 10 live commercial breaks (most of which were 30 seconds long), their constant presence — taking up almost six minutes of the three-hour game — probably turned some people off.

The bigger problem remains, though: People want to watch the commercials. And Canada’s Super Bowl commercials just don’t have anywhere near the same impact as the U.S. ones, most of which didn’t air on CTV.

To give you an idea of the difference, I recorded the Super Bowl on both channels on Sunday, and listed every advertisement during the actual game below. Where available, I’ve embedded YouTube videos of the ads (many advertisers put longer versions on YouTube than what was seen on TV, I’ve noted that below where it happens).

Note that these numbers are based on the CTV station being CFCF Montreal, with some local ads, and the Fox station being WFFF Burlington, also with some local Vermont ads. The substitution times are based on Videotron’s substitution of the standard-definition digital channel. (Since substitution is done by the TV provider, there could be some variance across providers.)

Not including movie trailers, there were only four or five (depending on your definition) of the classic type of “big game” ads that appeared on both CTV and Fox — big budget, new, and either funny or inspiring. Most of the most talked-about ones never made it to Canadian television.

Those ads that did air only in Canada were mostly the same type of hard-sell car ads, bank ads and network promos we’ve seen hundreds of times before. There were a few ads that came close — A Peoples jewellery ad, a 60-second ad from Wealthsimple, one from National Car Rental, and a cute Coca-Cola ad that would have had more of an impact had it not been almost a year old. But between mostly reheated leftovers and the real deal, it’s unsurprising many Canadians went with Fox.

If CTV is going to really get people to watch the Super Bowl on Canadian TV, it needs to give them a reason to. A contest is one way, but a better one would be to have some of those same big-game ads, preferably with a Canadian twist to them. The kind of ads that get people talking afterward. Like this one that Netflix did:

Or maybe they can cut some better network promos to promote they Canadian content.

Or, alternatively, they could provide other programming during commercial breaks or part of commercial breaks that people would want to watch. Bonus coverage from the Super Bowl itself, if such a thing is possible, for example.

I know it’s not easy. But as the traditional commercial break becomes less relevant in an era of PVRs and 30-second skip buttons, Canadian broadcasters are going to have to find a way to evolve anyway. And as much as this change hurts the Canadian broadcasting industry, it’s too popular for either the CRTC or the federal government to want to overturn.

By the numbers

  • Total length of non-substituted Super Bowl, including ads: 170 minutes
  • Total time of ads: 3,580 seconds (59 minutes, 40 seconds)
  • Percentage of total length made up of ads: 35%
  • CTV (CFCF):
    • Time spent on CTV’s Watch to Win contest (including promos): 355 seconds (5 minutes, 55 seconds)
    • Time spent on network promos (CTV, TSN, Discovery, Crave TV): 420 seconds (7 minutes)
    • Time spent on local ads: 90 seconds
    • Time spent on Bell Canada ads (excluding Bell Media): 205 seconds (3 minutes, 25 seconds)
  • Fox (WFFF):
    • Time spent on network promos (Fox, Fox Sports, FX): 380 seconds (6 minutes, 20 seconds)
    • Time spent on local ads: 375 seconds (6 minutes, 15 seconds)

Note: This post is broken up into several pages because of all the YouTube embeds. Continue to Page 2

13 thoughts on “Analysis: Comparing Super Bowl ads on CTV and FOX

  1. Mimo

    I definitely made the right decision to watch FOX. I’m noticing that a lot of these ads are not new, and many were repeated. It wasn’t until overtime that FOX repeated an ad. The quality of the Canadian ads really doesn’t compare,and truth be told, I’m going to be seeing them for the next several months anyway. My girlfriend found the viewing experience so much better than in past years. She is still talking about the KIA Eco Warrior ad with Melissa McCarthy, an ad she never would have seen with sim sub. I am so happy to have been spared that National Car Rental ad. They annoy me. They do run on U.S. channels but much less often.

  2. Gazoo28

    Just curious. Three of the four winners from CTV contest were located out west. Two in BC and one in Alberta.
    Coincidence or issue with the texting system. People here who tried received the message that their text was received after the time limit. Strange when their texts were sent within 30 seconds after the key word was announced.

  3. Brent Michaud

    Kind of puts the lie to the Bell claim that only 100 people complained about simsub. I was listening to CJAD Sunday morning around 8:25ish and the host said that all the American ads could be seen on CTV. I would like to give Ken the benefit of the doubt and say he made a mistake, but I am wondering if Bell hosts were given an edict to confuse listeners with this type of announcement. I trust Bell abouit as far as I can spit a T.Rex. Thankfully I have OTA and simsub is never an issue for me.

    1. Fagstein Post author

      I am wondering if Bell hosts were given an edict to confuse listeners with this type of announcement.

      I see no reason why Bell would tell its employees to lie on the air.

        1. Fagstein Post author

          Given their obfuscation vis a vis skinny cable packages

          There’s a difference between “obfuscation” and straight-up lying. If you have proof Bell Media told anyone to lie to the public to commit fraud, feel free to report it to the relevant authorities.

    2. Brett

      I watched the CTV feed because I only watch TV over the air. My indoor antenna only gets Montreal stations. Their ads where old and ones I seen way to many times.

  4. dilbert

    The Superbowl is over and CTV didn’t declare bankruptcy. Moreover, they still had millions of people watching who didn’t shift to the direct US feed.

    Smells like Bell just go caught way over hyping the implications. Want to bet the CRTC expands the simsub ban soon? Maybe ALL live programming?

    1. Fagstein Post author

      Smells like Bell just go caught way over hyping the implications.

      Bell Media said its audience would be cut by about half. It was cut by about half.

      1. dilbert

        SO when they renegotiate to get the rights for the Superbowl, they can offer half…. problem solves itself. Then they can work on boosting their audience by improving the overall content and perhaps adding value. Nah, they wouldn’t do that, that is work compared to a Simsub free lunch!

        1. Fagstein Post author

          SO when they renegotiate to get the rights for the Superbowl, they can offer half…. problem solves itself.

          Yeah, this is why the NFL is fighting this decision.


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