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Super Bowl commercials and Canada. When do we get to see them?

Super Bowl commercials
Super Bowl commercials
Canadians will soon say goodbye to this guy during the Super Bowl.

The CRTC today announced that, beginning in 2017, it will no longer allow Canadian broadcasters to substitute their own ads for those being broadcast during the American feed of the Super Bowl.

That’s right. You will be able to watch Super Bowl commercials in Canada. Just not this year.

Broadcasters in Canada have been changing what we see for decades. The practice, known as simultaneous substitution, or “simsubbing” has annoyed Canadians for years, partly because the clumsy execution of it has led to missed plays on broadcasts here.

But, for many more, it’s all about the Super Bowl commercials.

“Canadians have told us loud and clear: advertising is part of the spectacle associated with this event,” said Jean-Pierre Blais, chairman of the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission.

This all has the feel of a politician promising to lobby for an extra holiday. No one is going to oppose it, but it’s fairly far into the future and not very substantive.

The CRTC is putting on a smiley face, instituting consumer friendly moves such as reducing three year cell-phone carrier contracts to two years, and waiving the thirty day requirement period to cancel services. These are good pork-barrel style volleys that won’t upset the incumbents too much.

But what do consumers really want? To quote the CRTC’s own list of 29 issues it looked to address under its “Let’s Talk TV” initiative, Canadians want “Choice and Flexibility”. And they don’t want to be gouged for it.

The average Canadian household spends $185 a month on cable, Internet and phone service. Meanwhile, Bell has raised its dividend 69% since 2008.

Canadians are worried that the consolidation of power in the protected telecom industry is working against them. The average Canadian household, notes The Star’s Adam Mayers, spends $185 a month on cable, Internet and phone service. Meanwhile, Bell has raised its dividend 69% since 2008.

The CRTC’s “Let’s Talk TV” hearings, which wrapped up last September, attracted more than 100 stakeholders ranging from Netflix to Google to Telefilm to the National Film Board and the “Big Three” cable providers. The debate was feisty: the big three have scoffed at the CRTC’s consideration that capping basic cable at under $30 a month might be in the consumer’s interest. They also want service such as Netflix to pay into a fund that would be used to subsidize more Canadian content. “Let’s Talk TV” was a representative mix of competing interests, all of whom purport to speak for the Canadian consumer.

But there is little ambiguity to what Canadian consumers want, and one doesn’t have to take a poll to get the message. We want more choice at a lower price, something that the increasingly vertical integration of the telco business seems to be at odds with.

The average cable subscriber spends $52 per month for cable, including many channels that simply don’t want or wouldn’t choose, if they were allowed to unbundle the services and “pick and pay” for what they want. The big three’s generous response to this demand has been to create their own over-the-top services, Bell’s Crave TV and the Rogers-Shaw collaboration, shomi, and charge Canadians for it.

Many Canadians, literally and figuratively, aren’t buying this option. Instead, they are taking matters into their own hands. Some are cutting their cable entirely and accessing content through Virtual Private Networks, or VPNs. A VPN masks a users IP address so that the services believe a user is actually accessing them from the United States. A recent poll by The Media Technology Monitor found that a whopping 32% of anglophone Netflix subscribers are now accessing U.S. content this way.

What Canadians want is for the CRTC to show some teeth when representing Canadians desire for choice the way the commission did today with Net Neutrality.

Why are Canadians moving en masse into this legal grey area? Content. According to website Netflixable, which tracks the content available on different versions of Netflix, there are 4293 movies and TV shows available on Netflix Canada and 8577 movies/shows on Netflix USA.

Lots of Canadians would simply rather watch “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia” and “30 Rock” than “Republic of Doyle”. And they would rather not add to their already hefty cable bill to do this.

What Canadians want is for the CRTC to show some teeth when representing Canadians desire for choice the way the commission did today with Net Neutrality.

The CRTC ruled that Bell and Videotron violated the Telecommunications Act by exempting their own services from data charges.

“This decision will favour an open and non-discriminatory marketplace for mobile TV services, enabling innovation and choice for Canadians. The Commission is very supportive of the development of new means by which Canadians can access both Canadian-made and foreign audiovisual content.”

What’s at stake for the CRTC is simply being on the wrong side of history. A report from not-for-profit research institute C.D. Howe entitled “Let the Market Decide: The Case Against Mandatory Pick-and-Pay,” actually argues that the CRTC step back from even trying to unbundle services because the market is already doing that on it own.

“Any proposals to mandate such ‘pick-and-pay’ channel choices are deeply misguided and are largely an exercise in futility in the light of the technological revolution that is unfolding in the communications sector,” said the report.

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About The Author /

Cantech Letter founder and editor Nick Waddell has lived in five Canadian provinces and is proud of his country's often overlooked contributions to the world of science and technology. Waddell takes a regular shift on the Canadian media circuit, making appearances on CTV, CBC and BNN, and contributing to publications such as Canadian Business and Business Insider.
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