Tag Archives: Super Bowl ads

How Canadians can watch Super Bowl LIV with American ads (the 2020 guide)

Letter from CTV to TV providers, provided to me by a helpful source

The free ride is over. Thanks to a Supreme Court ruling that the CRTC had overstepped its authority in the way it created an exception to simultaneous substitution rules, CTV will once again be taking over the U.S. feed for the Super Bowl on Sunday for Canadian cable and satellite TV subscribers.

And that means Canadians will be looking for loopholes to get around those rules. So here they are.

Continue reading

Supreme Court overturns CRTC order banning ad substitution during Super Bowl

After three years of Canadian cable TV subscribers having access to American ads during the Super Bowl, we’ll be going back to the previous system after all.

On Thursday, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that the CRTC exceeded its authority when it issued an order that required cable and satellite TV companies to not substitute U.S. feeds with Canadian ones during the Super Bowl, in response to demands from Canadians to be able to watch the U.S. Super Bowl ads.

The 7-2 decision explicitly leaves open the possibility that the CRTC could use its authority under other sections of the Broadcasting Act to possibly reach the same result. The most obvious way would be under article 4(3) of the Simultaneous Substitution Regulations, which state that the CRTC can declare a condition whereby simultaneous substitution would not be in the public interest, and prohibit it accordingly.

But that won’t happen before the next Super Bowl less than two months away.

Specifically, the court found that article 9(1)h of the Broadcasting Act, the same article that allows the CRTC to require TV distributors to include certain channels in their basic packages and collect fees from every subscriber for them, “does not empower the CRTC to impose terms and conditions on the distribution of programming services generally,” and since the order the CRTC issued in 2016 does not require these companies to distribute the Super Bowl, its wording is invalid.

The article states that the CRTC may “require any licensee who is authorized to carry on a distribution undertaking to carry, on such terms and conditions as the Commission deems appropriate, programming services specified by the Commission.”

The majority found that this wording can’t be stretched to give the CRTC a bunch of powers it doesn’t say it has. The CRTC can order providers to carry certain channels, but that’s not what the Super Bowl order does.

This is notably the third time that an order issued under article 9(1)h has been rejected for this reason. Previous orders invalidated the CRTC’s “value for signal” regime that would have required providers pay for local TV stations, and a requirement for TV providers to abide by the Wholesale Code.

The court did not make decisions on other arguments, such as whether the CRTC has the power to regulate individual programs, or whether the CRTC’s order conflicts with the Copyright Act.

The two dissenting judges found that Bell and the NFL had not met their burden to prove that the CRTC decision was unreasonable, and generally deferred to the CRTC and its expertise in interpreting the section of the Broadcasting Act it was citing. It also found the CRTC’s decision was not invalidated by the Copyright Act.

The decision probably only accelerates a process that was coming anyway, as the Canadian government had already agreed as part of negotiations on a new trade agreement with the U.S. and Mexico to overturn the CRTC’s order.

And, of course, there are still other ways to watch the U.S. Super Bowl ads.

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:

Continue reading

No more U.S. Super Bowl ads, but access to U.S. stations remains under USMCA trade deal

I was a bit busy yesterday in the middle of a Quebec newsplosion, but fortunately people in the rest of Canada (Globe and MailFinancial Post, CBCBNN, Michael GeistCartt.ca) had time to read the new U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement and notice an annex that directly impacts the CRTC and Canadian TV viewers.

Annex 15-D of the agreement is very specific: “Canada shall rescind Broadcasting Regulatory Policy CRTC 2016-334 and Broadcasting Order CRTC 2016-335.”

It doesn’t use the words, but that policy is about ad substitution during the Super Bowl. It’s the policy (originally announced in 2015) that said Bell could not require TV providers in Canada substitute its signal over those of U.S. border stations during the game because of Canadians’ strong demand for those high-profile U.S. commercials.

Bell has been trying hard since 2015 to get that decision overturned, going all the way up to the Supreme Court of Canada. The NFL has been on their side, because without simsub, the value of the Super Bowl rights in Canada plummets.

Now, thanks to the NFL’s lobbying of U.S. trade negotiators, the Canadian government will step in and solve the problem for them. The annex doesn’t specify a timeframe, but presumably it would happen when the treaty is ratified, which may or may not come before the next Super Bowl in February.

Putting this in the trade deal gives the Canadian government and the CRTC some cover. The Canadian government can say they were forced into this by the U.S. government, and the CRTC can blame the Canadian government when people go back to complaining to it that U.S. ads are blocked.

This also could have ended much worse for Canadian TV viewers. This trade deal could have ended the entire practice of allowing U.S. over-the-air stations to be rebroadcast in Canada without their consent. There was lobbying from a coalition of U.S. border stations in favour of requiring retransmission consent. Instead, the existing simsub regime will be maintained, and rebroadcasting through TV distributors allowed (but only when the signal is unaltered and simultaneous).

Assuming this deal is ratified, it could be decades before the simsub regime changes. And by then it could be completely irrelevant.

UPDATE (Oct. 6): Donald Trump amazingly brought up this clause in a campaign rally on Thursday night, saying a “big big problem” with Super Bowl ads was fixed when he told his negotiators to fix it. He said he got a phone call thanking him from NFL commissioner Roger Goodell.

And let QVC in, too

The annex also includes a provision related specifically to QVC: “Canada shall ensure that U.S. programming services specializing in home shopping, including modified versions of these U.S. programming services for the Canadian market, are authorized for distribution in Canada and may negotiate affiliation agreements with Canadian cable, satellite, and IPTV distributors.”

In 2016, the CRTC denied an application by TV provider VMedia to allow it to distribute the American shopping channel in Canada. It argued that since QVC would be doing business with Canadians, and that’s the very basis for that channel, “QVC would be carrying on a broadcasting undertaking in whole or in part in Canada” and for that it needed a licence (which it couldn’t get because it’s not Canadian-owned).

VMedia filed a request in court to overturn that decision, and the federal court sent it back to the CRTC. The commission opened a proceeding about its reconsideration, but has not published a decision.

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

Continue reading

CTV hopes $300,000 in prizes will keep Canadians on its Super Bowl feed

Bell Media has had two years to prepare for the implementation of the CRTC’s simultaneous substitution decision. Now, with a little more than a week to go until Super Bowl LI, the first that will be exempt from simsub, CTV has announced how it will try to keep Canadians glued to its feed instead of switching to Fox for the U.S. commercials:

  • Prizes. The headliner is $300,000 in cash prizes (including the $150,000 grand prize), plus a 2017 Nissan Titan and tickets to the 2018 Super Bowl in Minneapolis. During the broadcast, “hosted by TSN’s Kate Beirness and Tessa Bonhomme, who will reveal the winning keyword for each prize. To be entered into each draw, fans can simply text the winning keyword along with their name and city.” Obviously, this will only be available on the Canadian feed.
  • Pregame and postgame shows. The CRTC has clarified that the simsub rule exemption applies only during the game itself. The hours and hours of pregame shows will be simsubbed, as will a half-hour postgame show featuring the awarding of the Vince Lombardi trophy. This means that CTV, rather than rushing to start an hour-long drama at 10pm when the game is just ending, will stick with the postgame broadcast for half an hour and have a smoother transition.
  • More channels. In addition to CTV, the game will also be broadcast on CTV Two and TSN. This isn’t really necessary, since few Canadians have access to CTV Two or TSN but not CTV, but putting the Super Bowl on these other channels increases the chances that someone picking a channel randomly from their guide will stumble on a Bell-controlled Canadian feed rather than a U.S. Fox affiliate. The game will also be streamed online on CTV.ca and CTV Go. That online rebroadcast is not regulated by the CRTC, and there will be no (legal) way to watch a Fox station online in Canada.
  • Letterkenny. Rather than an hour-long drama at 10pm, CTV will air, for the first time on regular television, the first episode of the Crave TV original comedy series Letterkenny, commercial-free, at 10:30pm after the postgame show. (Because the series has really coarse language, CTV is going to delay the airings in the Mountain and Pacific time zones so they air at 10:30pm local time instead of just after the game.) Fox is airing 24: Legacy, whose Canadian rights are held by City TV. CTV has, to their credit, been using the coveted post-Super Bowl spot about half the time to showcase original Canadian series. Here are CTV’s Super Bowl leadout shows since it won the rights in 2007 (2010 was the only case in which CTV also aired the program the U.S. Super Bowl broadcaster followed up the game with):
    • 2008: Nip/Tuck (U.S.)
    • 2009: The Mentalist (U.S.)
    • 2010: Undercover Boss (U.S.)*
    • 2011: Flashpoint (Canada)
    • 2012: The Voice (U.S.)
    • 2013: Motive (Canada)
    • 2014: Masterchef Canada
    • 2015: Masterchef Canada
    • 2016: Legends of Tomorrow (U.S.)
  • Pushing pre-viewing of U.S. ads. CTV is encouraging Canadians to visit BigGameAds.ca to watch “all the latest American SUPER BOWL ads.” That sounds like an interesting project until you learn that the page is just a redirect to an unaffiliated website that is embedding YouTube videos of some ads. Other ads haven’t been released yet, and in some cases we’re only going to see trailers for ads until they actually air live. A redirect to YouTube’s AdBlitz channel might have made more sense.

One thing that wasn’t announced is anything special about the Canadian ads themselves. Bell says it has spots from Nissan, Coca-Cola, The Keg, Mazda, Scotiabank, Subway, Sun Life Financial and Tim Hortons, and no doubt some of them will have put decent money into those ads, but Tim Hortons isn’t exactly Budweiser.

Will the contest and other measures be enough? No. But maybe CTV won’t lose as many viewers to Fox as it had worried it would. And if it keeps most of its viewers, the Super Bowl on CTV could easily remain the most watched television program of the year in Canada.

Super Bowl LI airs Sunday, Feb. 5 at 6:30pm on CTV, CTV Two, TSN, RDS and Fox, the latter with American commercials between kickoff and the end of the game.

 

20 bogus arguments about the CRTC and Super Bowl ads

With less than three weeks to go until Super Bowl LI, the rhetoric is heating up about a decision made by the CRTC two years ago to end simultaneous substitution during the Super Bowl, now that it’s about to finally come into effect.

There’s good reason for this. Simultaneous substitution is worth $250 million to the Canadian television industry, according to one estimate, and substitution for the Super Bowl alone — the most watched program on Canadian TV every year with an average around 7 million (plus another 1 million on RDS) — is worth $18 million a year to Bell Media, which owns the Canadian rights through 2019. There’s a huge financial interest for Bell to keep fighting this.

And so the decision is facing an appeal by Bell Media, though the court declined to stay the decision in the meantime, so it remains in force pending a decision.

Ever more desperate, Bell Media, the NFL and other allies in the fight appealed to the government directly, lobbying them to engage in creative manoeuvres to overrule the CRTC. The government appears disinterested in stepping in to overturn a populist decision by a supposedly arm’s-length regulator.

In the arguments for and against the decision, from interest groups, newspaper columnists and others, there have been a lot of good points and a lot of poor ones made. Those who want to oversimplify this issue have taken plenty of logical short cuts that can lead casual observers to incorrect conclusions.

Here are some of the arguments used by both sides that I’ve heard over the past few weeks (in some cases I’ve included links to those who have used them or implied them), and why I think those arguments are invalid.

Continue reading

NFL will push local CTV newscasts to 7:30pm Sundays this fall

The scheduling conflict was obvious the moment Bell Media announced last December that it was picking up Sunday afternoon NFL games at 4pm from City: If the games go from 4pm to 7pm (or 7:30pm), then the 6pm local newscast is going to have to move, at least in the eastern part of the country.

On Thursday, as Bell Media did its upfront presentation to advertisers in Toronto (you can see the fall primetime schedule here), we got some details of what’s going to happen: The Sunday evening newscast won’t be cancelled, but it will be chopped to half an hour and pushed to 7:30pm, sandwiched between the NFL game and the 8pm airing of ABC’s Once Upon a Time.

That’s the case in the eastern time zone, at least. In Atlantic Canada, there’s no conflict because the NFL games will air on CTV Two, which doesn’t have Sunday evening newscasts. In the Central time zone (Manitoba, and Saskatchewan in the winter), the news will air for half an hour at 6:30pm (the Sunday evening newscast is already half an hour long in these areas). And in Mountain and Pacific time zones, since the game ends at 5:30 and 4:30pm respectively, the evening news is unaffected.

This schedule only takes effect during the NFL season. The first disrupted Sunday is Sept. 4, and the last will be at the end of January. (Early playoff rounds also conflict, but the Super Bowl airs in primetime, so it won’t bump local news.) After that, the schedule returns to normal and the news goes back to being an hour at 6pm.

The Sunday evening newscast has some special features to fill that hour of time on what is usually a slow news day. Sunday Bite and Power of One could just take a break for five months, be moved to other days or be shortened and integrated into the shorter newscast.

One of the consequences of this move in Montreal is that it leaves only Global with a 6pm local newscast on Sundays during the NFL season. (CBC doesn’t have a 6pm newscast Sunday because that’s when it airs movies.) The station might take advantage by putting its best foot forward on those Sunday evenings in a bid to attract more viewers for the rest of the week.

Please make better Canadian Super Bowl ads

Speaking of CTV and the NFL, the network is starting a contest, with the Canadian Marketing Association, to encourage Canadian advertisers to create their own must-see Super Bowl ads.

Super Bowl Sunday is the one day of the year where Canadians actually want to watch U.S. ads, because of the hype around them. But while some U.S. advertisers also buy ads on CTV’s simulcast, many don’t, and we get much lower quality ads as a result. CTV’s heavy rotation of promo ads for its programs have also been frustrating viewers with their repetitiveness.

So we have a contest, whose rules haven’t been defined yet, but whose prize seems to be a free ad during the Super Bowl in Canada.

It’s unlikely to reverse the tide. Even if there’s one ad that Canadians would want to watch — and there have been some in recent years — and the U.S. commercials are posted online within seconds of their airing (and often well before that), most Canadians who care still prefer to watch the U.S. commercials live.

Twitter reactions to CTV’s Super Bowl broadcast

Seems a lot of Canadians didn’t like not being able to see U.S. Super Bowl ads. Here are some highlights of their chatter during the game on Twitter.


Continue reading

CRTC gets testy about simultaneous substitution during Super Bowl

It started with a simple to-the-point reply from a Rogers Twitter account to a Rogers cable customer complaining that the San Francisco-Seattle NFL playoff game on FOX had been replaced with the same broadcast from CTV containing CTV commercials.

But for CRTC chairman Jean-Pierre Blais, it was a source of “dismay” because it provided “contradictory information.” So he sent a letter to Rogers asking for them to make sure their customer service agents provide more accurate information about the nature of simultaneous substitution, and file a report about its training methods.

Specifically, Blais notes that it’s up to the Canadian broadcaster to request simultaneous substitution, and both the broadcaster and the distributor (the cable, satellite or IPTV company) to ensure it’s done properly.

When I first read the letter last week, I thought maybe Blais had become confused, mistaking Rogers the broadcaster for Rogers the distributor. If CTV had blamed the CRTC for this, it would have been one thing, but Rogers is required by CRTC regulation to follow CTV’s request for substitution. So why is the CRTC getting mad at Rogers?

A call from the commission’s communications department, which actively monitors what people say on Twitter about the commission, reassured me that there was no error here. Blais simply wants a more accurate answer to these complaints and for everyone to stop blaming the CRTC.

Except the CRTC is to blame here. And what Rogers answered may not have been complete, but it wasn’t incorrect.

Continue reading

Still no special tricks for watching American Super Bowl ads on cable in Montreal

Super Bowl on CTV

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
  • Laval
  • The north shore
  • The south shore
  • Joliette
  • St. Jérôme
  • Montérégie
  • St. Jean sur Richelieu
  • Vaudreuil-Dorion
  • Lachute
  • Granby
  • Sorel

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.

Shaw Direct

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.

Online

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.

Bars

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.

Other loopholes

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.

Montrealers still screwed for Super Bowl XLVI ads

For information about the latest Super Bowl, click here.

Not much has changed since last year, so I’m sorry to report that Montreal TV viewers will, once again, be largely forced to endure simultaneous substitution during Sunday’s Super Bowl and 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 have to explain what “simultaneous substitution” is and why it’s there.

CFCF’s digital transmitter closed the loophole where the high-definition feed wasn’t substituted in Montreal, and now Videotron and other cable providers must replace the WPTZ feed with CFCF in standard and high definition.

Here’s how it works for the various options of getting television:

Over the air

This method gets a significant boost this year, because the Super Bowl is being carried by NBC instead of Fox. Montreal antennas can pick up WPTZ Plattsburgh (650kW) much better than WFFF Burlington (47kW), so more people will be able to watch the Super Bowl this way. But it’s still difficult to capture American stations if you have cheap indoor antennas.

This is the best method (and the only legal one) for Montrealers to get American ads in high definition live, along with the Super Bowl itself.

CFCF will be carrying the Super Bowl, but obviously it has the Canadian ads.

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
  • Laval
  • The north shore
  • The south shore
  • Joliette
  • St. Jérôme
  • Montérégie
  • St. Jean sur Richelieu
  • Vaudreuil-Dorion

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 subtituted and will be able to watch the American ads on NBC channels.

Other cable providers (including Bell Fibe)

Same as Videotron, I’m afraid. They don’t have a choice in the matter.

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.

Shaw Direct

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, they are not subject to simultaneous substitution rules.

Online

There’s no legal way to get the Super Bowl itself online except through ways sanctioned by CTV (they’re not streaming it, but it is available on mobile). There will probably be black-market feeds, but why bother when you can get it in HD on cable or over the air?

The ads are another story. Expect all the good ones to be online shortly after broadcast. In fact, many are already online and creating buzz. YouTube has a special site devoted to Super Bowl ads that you can watch whenever you want, in high definition.

Bars

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.

If you spot one that promises to show American ads, let me know in the comments.

Other loopholes

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 and I suspect the chances of it working is low.

You could also, I suppose, just go to Vermont for the weekend and watch the Super Bowl there.

UPDATE (Feb. 3): The Globe and Mail’s Susan Krashinsky explains the reasons why U.S. ads don’t air on Canadian networks. I’d also add that some are for products that simply aren’t available in Canada.

CFCF sets up HD transmitter to close Super Bowl ad loophole

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

For the past few years, a loophole in the CRTC’s simultaneous substitution rules has allowed Videotron HD subscribers to watch the Super Bowl and other programming with the U.S. commercials.

This year, CTV is determined to close that loophole, and has setup a digital HD transmitter on Mount Royal to do so.

Though he called the timing “coincidental” (it only just got approval from Industry Canada to start transmitting), CFCF station manager Don Bastien confirmed Friday the rumours that have been spreading online. He says the transmitter has been setup and is expected to begin testing within hours (UPDATE: The transmitter is running, with signal reports coming in from all over). He also says the station informed Videotron and other television distributors weeks ago that it intends to enforce the rule on simultaneous substitution and replace the Super Bowl feed on WFFF (Fox 44) with its own on Feb. 6.

The loophole explained

Simultaneous substitution is a CRTC policy that requires cable companies to replace a U.S. channel with a feed from a local Canadian TV station when the two are running identical programming. The idea is that advertising revenue would remain in Canada, because the advertising is sold by the local station.

Most of the year, this isn’t an issue (assuming it’s done correctly – often there are glitches, particularly when live shows run past their scheduled time). But Super Bowl Sunday has a reputation as much for its million-dollar commercials as its championship football and rocking half-time show. And those while those commercials air nationally in the United States, not all of them will air on Canadian television as well.

Canadian viewers have been seeking out the U.S. broadcast to get the full Super Bowl experience, so much so that in the past Videotron has even advertised the fact that it has an unsubstituted Super Bowl feed, and bars and restaurants have advertised the “American broadcast” of the game. (The CRTC even has a frequently-asked-questions page about it)

Under the rules of simultaneous substitution, the Canadian signal must be a local, broadcasting television signal, which is of equal or greater quality than the American one. Since CFCF was not broadcasting in high definition, Videotron was not obligated to substitute the U.S. HD feed with the special HD feed that CFCF provided the cable company off-air. Nor could they replace the U.S. HD feed with a standard-definition feed from CFCF.

Now, with a digital transmitter running and expected to remain that way during the Super Bowl, the only way to get the game with U.S. commercials (legally) is to setup an antenna and pick up WFFF over the air from across the border. (We’ll see how many bars want to go through that much trouble.)

Temporary transmitter

Because the analog transmitters are still running on Mount Royal, broadcasters have setup temporary digital transmitters across the city in less prime locations. CFCF’s is just next to the Mount Royal transmitter, on Channel 51 (the PSIP system has it show on TVs as “12.1”), with an effective radiated power of about 6,000 Watts. Though it’s nowhere near the 325 kilowatts being put out by its analog transmitter, it’s probably good enough that people who can see the mountain can pick it up over the air.

In August, when analog transmission is required to cease in major markets like Montreal, CFCF and others should have a stronger signal. CFCF is licensed for 10,600km ERP transmitter on Mount Royal that will operate on Channel 12.

“Getting what we paid for”

When asked about preventing Montreal cable viewers from getting U.S. commercials, Bastien wasn’t sympathetic. “We have paid the Canadian rights to the Super Bowl,” he said. “The broadcast should be a Canadian broadcast. It’s not a matter of taking away something from Canadian viewers, but rather us getting what we paid for.”

I suspect that will be cold comfort to some of those viewers.

Just watch them online

Many of my suggestions from last year on how to watch the U.S. commercials no longer apply, except for two:

  1. Watch WFFF over the air with an antenna, assuming you get good enough reception. (Your TV must have an ATSC digital tuner)
  2. Watch the commercials online after the fact, on sites like YouTube. It’s not like the advertisers want to put roadblocks between their works of art and your eyeballs.

UPDATE (Jan. 31): CTV has issued a press release announcing the station being on the air, which I guess means it’s out of testing now. Like most press releases by media companies, it’s intentionally misleading for the sake of pretending to be better than the competition. It says “CTV becomes Canada’s only broadcaster to have HD transmitters in Toronto, Vancouver, Calgary, and Montréal,” but it obviously chooses those cities selectively, leaving out that even with CFCF, it trails Citytv and Global in the number of cities with digital transmitters (and it matches CBC at four). It also talks quite a bit about CFCF’s newscast, which might give people the impression that the newscast will be in high definition, but that’s months, probably years away.

UPDATE (Feb. 4): Brendan Kelly writes about this issue in The Gazette. It includes the statement from Bastien that an HD upgrade of the newscast would cost between $8 million and $10 million.

UPDATE (Feb. 6): For the record, Videotron subscribers outside of the following areas get the Super Bowl feed (and other U.S. programming) unsubstituted:

  • Montreal and on-island suburbs
  • Laval
  • The north shore
  • The south shore
  • Joliette
  • St. Jérôme
  • Montérégie
  • St. Jean sur Richelieu
  • Vaudreuil-Dorion

Five ways for Montrealers to watch U.S. Super Bowl ads

Note: This post has been updated for the 2011 Super Bowl. For the latest on Super Bowl ads on Canadian cable and satellite, click here.

For 364 days a year, Canadians don’t care about what the CRTC calls “simultaneous substitution” – the policy whereby cable and satellite providers replace a U.S. channel with a Canadian one when both are running the same program. (The logic behind this is so the Canadian station gets all the Canadian viewers and can charge higher advertising rates.)

For Montrealers especially, the U.S. ads are pretty forgettable. Local ads for Burlington businesses or ads for products and services that Canadians don’t get. Besides, commercials in general are meant to be ignored. Nobody really cares whether the Ford ad lists prices in Canadian or U.S. dollars.

But then there’s Super Bowl Sunday. And while two teams fight for the National Football League’s championship trophy, many television viewers will be looking at the full experience, which includes a halftime show and insanely-expensive commercials. Advertisers turn Super Bowl commercials into events, building up hype and spending through the nose on celebrities and special effects to justify the through-the-nose spending they’re doing just to get the airtime.

So if you’re a Montrealer watching the Super Bowl and want the U.S. commercials, what can you do?

Here are your options:

  1. Watch the U.S. network over the air. As much as the CRTC would like, it can’t stop U.S. stations from transmitting across the border. So you can hook up an antenna and watch it that way. The U.S. network affiliates in Vermont and New York have good coverage in Montreal if you have a good antenna. The catch is that since 2009 they broadcast only in digital, which means you need a television with a digital tuner (most recent HDTVs have this) or a converter box (like this one or this one). Elias Makos has more details for Montrealers wanting to watch U.S. stations over the air.
  2. Watch west-coast feeds. This method has mixed success. The cable and satellite companies are supposed to replace all feeds they’re asked to, but some forget (or aren’t asked?) to do this for west coast feeds, which carry the Super Bowl live at the same time as the east-coast stations do. There’s no guarantee of success with this.
  3. Watch the ads online. These advertisers aren’t about to sue people who put their ads online, and they’re more than welcome to you watching them as many times as you want after the game. YouTube and Spike TV have special sites setup with Super Bowl commercials. The latter includes an archive of past Super Bowl ads. Adweek has a section on Super Bowl ads too
  4. Get the feed illegally. If you subscribe to DirecTV or other U.S.-based satellite services, this whole post is moot and you’ll get the U.S. feeds. You can also try hunting for website streaming the Super Bowl from a U.S. location, but the NFL works diligently to shut those down, and if the entire point is to watch the ads, then you might as well just go to YouTube and see them there legally.
  5. Go to a friend’s house or bar that has done one of the above. Of course, the harder it is for you to get the feed, the harder it is for them too.

Ways that no longer work:

  1. Watch the U.S. network in HD on Videotron Illico digital TV. Videotron made a point of announcing in the past that they would have the U.S. feed untouched in HD. They can no longer do this for customers in the Montreal area with the setup of CFCF-DT in 2011.
  2. Watch the game on Bell TV. The CRTC closed a loophole in 2009 that would have allowed Bell to give most of its subscribers access to the U.S. Super Bowl feed. If you use Bell TV satellite service, you’re out of luck.

Super Bowl commercials FTW

The Gazette’s Denise Duguay reports that Videotron did not, in fact, substitute its NBC HD channel for CTV HD as CTV’s press release suggested it would, meaning she was one of the few Canadians to watch NBC’s Super Bowl commercials without having to hook up an antenna.

Of course, for those who want to see them, they’re all over the place online: Just for Laughs, Spike, NFL, FanHouse, YouTube, MySpace. Some include so-called “banned ads” and other attention-grabbers.

Dominic Arpin provides some of his favourite ads. But really, they all suck.

Oh, and that was a good game today, even if I could pay only half attention to it.