Canadians tired of being denied American Super Bowl ads will get to see what all the fuss is about — just not yet.
Starting in 2017, the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) will no longer allow broadcasters to request simultaneous substitution during the Super Bowl.
The announcement was made during a speech on the future of television at the London Chamber of Commerce Thursday morning by CRTC chairman Jean-Pierre Blais.
The speech heralded three major changes to CRTC television regulations, stemming from a 15-month dialogue called “Let’s Talk TV” that the commission had with Canadians about what they liked — and didn’t like — about Canadian television. The discussions capture, in the era of YouTube and Netflix, a growing desire for a freedom to choose what one watches, when and where.
But he also warned that, while Canadians demand change, there are stalwarts who want the system to remain the same.
“Those that previously enjoyed entitlements under the old system often make the loudest objections to the new system, set up the strongest roadblocks, and dig in their heels deepest,” he said.
1. Stricter requirements for simultaneous substitution.
For many Canadians, simultaneous substitution — switching American signals for Canadian signals during commercial breaks — is the bane of the sporting season.
This is how it works:
The CRTC allows broadcasters who air American programming (such as CTV or Global) to request distributors (such as Bell or Rogers) to switch over to a Canadian signal during commercial breaks.
Broadcasters love this, because it keeps ad revenues in-house. Blais said simultaneous substitution is worth $250 million annually across the industry.
But Canadians hate it.
Slip-ups in signalling times can cause fans to miss the big play or overtime goal.
And what kind of democracy would deny its citizens the joys of “Wassup,” the Geico gecko or Ali Landry eating Doritos?
Blais said that while Canadians loathe it, the financial cost of ending simultaneous substitution is too great. Instead, new regulations will hope to end some of its biggest annoyances.
Starting in the 2016 football season (so the 2017 Super Bowl), simultaneous substitutions will be banned. It’s the only time during the year when broadcasters will not be allowed to request simultaneous substitution.
Furthermore, Blais said, the CRTC will adopt a “zero-tolerance approach to substantial mistakes.”
If the final touchdown gets cut off because the game ran long and the signal switches to commercial break too soon, broadcasters or distributors could be held responsible and forced to offer their customers a rebate.
2. Over-the-air television will remain free
The CRTC had previously toyed with the idea of allowing local television stations to shut down transmitters that broadcast their signal over the airwaves free, Blais said.
But that didn’t go over well. About 95 per cent of Canadians said that access to over-the-air television was important, Blais said.
Local television stations (who are largely responsible free air signals) get between 40 and 50 per cent of television viewing between the hours of 7 and 11 p.m., Blais said.
Although local free programming is popular, Blais said over-the-air television can’t last forever.
“The future of television lies more toward viewer-centric, on-demand models than the scheduled broadcasts such as those provided by OTA,” he said in London.
3. No preferences for provider’s own programming
Blais also responded to two challenges made by Canadians to the practices of mobile phone and content providers.
Both applications alleged that mobile providers Bell and Vidéotron gave “unfair” preference to their own video content by letting users watch it free on their phones, while charging for video content from other sources, such as YouTube.
The CRTC agrees.
From now on, providers will not be allowed to discount their own content and charge for others, Blais said.
“When the impetus to innovate steps on the toes of the principle of fair and open access to content, we will intervene,” he said.