Canadian sports fans apparently jumped on the chance to watch buzz-worthy American ads during Super Bowl LI when given the chance for the first time.
Bell Media’s ratings for CTV, CTV Two and TSN plummeted 39 per cent to an average audience of 4.47 million viewers for the National Football League’s big game on Sunday, down from 7.32 million on CTV in 2016, Bell spokesman Scott Henderson said in an email.
Bell places the blame squarely on the federal broadcast regulator’s new policy that banned the substitution of big-budget U.S. ads on the FOX broadcast with commercials targeted at a Canadian audience, a practice called simultaneous substitution or simsub. Viewers apparently flocked to FOX instead of sticking to local ads on their local broadcast.
“It’s the outcome we predicted despite our efforts to mitigate the audience loss, and the support of the Canadian companies that stepped up to advertise on the domestic broadcast,” Henderson said.
The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission introduced the rule in August, arguing Canadians should have the chance to watch the U.S. ads despite cries from Bell, the NFL and Canada’s creative community that they stand to lose millions without the ability to sell Canadian ads during the largest live TV event of the year.
“The CRTC’s decision is clearly having a direct and negative impact on Canadian viewers, advertisers, and the broader broadcasting and creative community. We’ll continue our fight alongside the NFL to reverse it,” Henderson said.
Bell and the NFL are fighting the decision in federal court. They argue the CRTC does not have the power to ban simsub for a single broadcast (the rule only applies to the Super Bowl).
Politicians on both sides of the border joined the fray, calling on the Prime Minister’s Office to invoke a rarely used power to push the Canadian ads on the broadcast. The last time this clause was used was during the 1995 Quebec referendum on separation from Canada.
The NFL even brought the problem up with President Donald Trump’s administration, urging it to throw its weight behind the league’s attempt to nix the policy in the name of fair business dealings between the two countries.
But politicians didn’t budge before kick off and, based on social media reactions, Canadians were pleased they got to watch the U.S. ads that seemed to spark more reaction from some than the game itself.