This image provided by Anheuser-Busch shows actors Amy Schumer and Seth Rogen in the company's Bud Light Party campaign spot for Super Bowl 50.
Simultaneous substitution is a longstanding and successful CRTC cornerstone policy that helped to build — and continues to sustain — the Canadian broadcasting system.
By allowing broadcasters to temporarily replace the signal of a U.S. TV channel with that of a Canadian channel showing the same program at the same time, the policy ensures advertisers in Canada can reach Canadian audiences. It also ensures Canadian consumers are exposed to ads consistent with government directed and/or self-regulatory advertising guidelines, and that the advertising dollars generated by this policy indeed remain in Canada, to the benefit of Canadians.
So why did the CRTC reverse this established and effective policy, solely for the Super Bowl? According to the CRTC, “…the comments (complaints) received from Canadians and the fact that the non- Canadian advertising produced for the Super Bowl is an integral part of this special event programming,” justifies banning the broadcaster from performing simultaneous substitution during the big game, as of the end of the 2016 NFL season.
Let’s put it in perspective. All of this — the impairment to Canadian businesses and economic spinoff — is a response to, as we understand it, fewer than 100 complaints from Canadians about Super Bowl ads. Contrast this with the 9.23 million Canadians who watched Super Bowl XLIX on Canadian television. Importantly, Canadian advertisers (banks, retailers, automotive, beer) all were able to communicate with Canadian customers during this unique and high-interest event, while strengthening the Canadian broadcasting system. If this policy is implemented, Canadian advertisers will no longer be afforded this opportunity.
Moreover, advertisers in Canada run ads that are both relevant to Canadians and comply with Canadian government directed and/or self-regulatory advertising standards. As a result of this decision, Canadians may be exposed to advertising that is irrelevant to them because the company doesn’t operate in Canada, doesn’t make the advertised products available here or offers them at a significantly different price. Many of the U.S. ads also run afoul of Canadian advertising standards.
The CRTC’s misguided solution to quell consumer sentiment is simply offside. Carving the Super Bowl out as an exemption to its sim-sub policy, no matter how well meaning, is an overreaction. This decision will also affect other parties in the ecosystem: revenue to media advertising agencies will be reduced and TV commercials for the event no longer produced. This eliminates commercial production and associated economic activity in Canada and reduces opportunities for ACTRA performers appearing in and showcasing Canadian products and services.
We fail to see how a highly successful policy that has served Canadian viewers and Canadian advertisers so well, and indeed funded the broadcasting system in Canada for so many years, can suddenly be right for some programs yet not for others. What message does this send to Canadian broadcasters? Does it signal they should not buy ads on other high-profile sim-sub U.S. programming such as the Academy Awards or the World Series? That they should not buy any programming other than Canadian programming? The spectre of further exclusions to the policy and inability to monetize their investment must surely send a chill through our broadcast industry.
As businesses that depend on advertising to reach Canadian consumers, we rely on access to the unique platforms the Super Bowl and other high-profile shows provide. As such, we urge the CRTC to reconsider this decision.
And by the way, most of the American Super Bowl 50 ads are already available for viewing online, anyway!
Ron Lund is president and CEO of the Association of Canadian Advertisers.