February 7, 2017 2 years 6 months ago

COMMENTARY: How the CRTC failed Cancon with the Super Bowl simsub decision

WITH ITS SUPER BOWL SIMSUB decision, which finally came to pass Sunday of course, the CRTC decided that a relative few people complaining they couldn’t watch American ads (ads!) was more important than the promotion and funding of Canadian content.

The decision to set aside simultaneous substitution and, essentially, cause direct harm to Bell Media – the company which purchased the rights to the game in Canada – is a fundamental departure from what the Commission is supposed to do, which is promote, foster and enable the distribution of Canadian content and culture through the Canadian broadcasting system. It’s impossible to fathom how setting aside the simultaneous substitution rules for a single program – the most popular one of the year at that – meets those objectives.

The numbers for Bell are staggering. Despite the fact it ran the game on CTV, CTV Two and TSN, it was only able to pull in 4.47 million viewers, 39% less than the 7.32 million audience it captured last year, when it was able to simultaneously substitute its own ads over top of the American broadcast feed. The company did its best to make it as whole as it could, running a Watch to Win contest which, according to a Bell spokesperson, saw 1.1 million entries during the game.

Now, the simsub ban only counted during the actual game itself, so we took it upon ourselves to do a count of the ads and programming promotions aired by Bell Media while the Patriots and Falcons were actually on the field. We counted a total of 93 30-second ad slots which weren’t Bell-related (there were 12 Bell Fibe, Bell Mobility or The Source ads). Now, the cost for a 30-second ad for last year’s Super Bowl in Canada was in the neighbourhood of $185,000 each (according a source), those 93 in-game spots would ostensibly have brought in $17.2 million. However, factoring in 39% fewer viewers, let’s do some simple math and say Bell took a 39% haircut in revenue – or a $6.7 million loss in revenue, by our total guesstimate.

Setting aside the fact our simplistic (and surely wrong) calculation is well below Bell Media’s prior estimates of its loss, even that amount of money is not insignificant to a traditional media business facing change and shrinking ad revenue at every corner. (And, Bell also told us it will continue to fight the decision in the courts along with the NFL.)

FURTHER, WE ALSO COUNTED a total of 35 spots promoting Bell Media content, from Designated Survivor to MasterChef Canada, NHL Tradecentre to Blindspot, Heavy Rescue 401 to Cardinal. Of those 35 promo spots, 21, or 60%, were dedicated to Bell’s Canadian content. Even one of the paid ads was purchased by CBC for its new show, Bellevue.

This part is particularly galling to me because I covered and took part in the CRTC-led Discoverability Summit last year where I heard the Commission and our government talk about how difficult it is for Canadians to find Canadian content. Yet, here is the biggest show of the year, where Bell Media is seriously pushing its Cancon, and our Regulator instead sent Canadians away from Bell, away from hearing about new and returning Canadian content, and for that matter, away from seeing ads which are actually relevant to them (the deals on GMC trucks are different here than in the States, for example) and to an American broadcaster instead.

“Most of us can figure out we have the imperfect-but-resilient TV system we have in order to fund Canadian content, to have an industry here, to make local news, to have good jobs in media. Most of us are mature enough to get that.”

The fact that millions of Canadians tuned in to Fox to see the game with American ads (all of which were available to view before the game, online – and are still available now) doesn’t make the decision right. We Canadians are generally intelligent. Most of us can figure out we have the imperfect-but-resilient TV system we have in order to fund Canadian content, to have an industry here, to make local news, to have good jobs in media. Most of us are mature enough to get that. For those who aren’t and holler about how supposedly unfair it is that Canadians can’t see whatever jiggly confection Go Daddy has put together (like this one in 2013) at the exact same time as their friends in Detroit? Well, the Commission was correct to ignore that loud minority every year.

Now, for whatever reason, the industry itself kept repeating something silly over the past months – that only 100 people complained about not being able to see the ads (ads!). That’s a ridiculous number. More than 100 people complained annually – they just didn’t file any paperwork. Everyone knows that.

However, let’s say it was 100 times that and 10,000 Canadians were REALLY angry about not seeing American commercials (commercials!). That’s 0.14% of the entire Super Bowl audience in 2016. Let’s say it was 100,000 Canadians who were REALLY super-duper angry about not being able to see the ads (ads!), then it’s all the way up to 1.4% of the Super Bowl viewers. Even a million rabid, angry complainers is still just 14% of the total viewers.

Would any business choose to drastically change their product with so few people upset about it? Of course not. Changing anything when the vast, vast majority are either happy with things as they are, or don’t really care about whose ads (ads!) air between plays is just bad business

Making policy for a single show based on few complaints and about the ads (ads!) for goodness sakes, is just bad policy, even if it was a good PR move for the Commission. It not only took revenue away from the Canadian broadcaster who negotiated the rights believing it had regulatory certainty for a few more years, it deprived Canadian advertisers from the ability to target the largest assembled group of Canadians annually – and prevented millions of Canadians from finding out where and what The Expanse is, that Saving Hope is in its last season, that the wonderfully vulgar and hilarious Letterkenny is binge-able on CraveTV and that Canadian hoax-news show The Beaverton now airs Wednesdays as the lead-in to Full Frontal With Samantha Bee (not Cancon but still a Canadian host) on Comedy Network.

As long as film and TV rights owners sell their wares country by country, as long as Canada is still a separate country, and knowing linear TV still has a lot of life left in it, we will need these simultaneous substitution rules and those regs will continue to help fund thousands of Cancon hours. To take that away from the most popular program of the year was a mistake.