Supreme Court brings back simsub for Super Bowl

Bell Media got a very pleasant early Christmas present from the Supreme Court of Canada on Thursday.

In a 7-2 ruling, the Court quashed a 2016 order from the Canadian Radio-television Telecommunications Commission to prevent simultaneous substitution (simsub) during the Canadian broadcast of the Super Bowl, rights currently held by Bell Media.

In short, the decision means Canadians won’t see the highly anticipated, big-budget U.S. ads produced for the NFL championship while watching the game on TV—although they will be easily available for online viewing.

For years, the CRTC received complaints from Canadians who were unhappy they didn’t get to see U.S. ads while watching the game. In 2016, the CRTC officially ordered the end of simsub for the Super Bowl, meaning that Canadians would get U.S. ads during the Canadian broadcast.

That meant fewer Canadian eyeballs on Canadian ads during the game, effectively changing the rules for Bell Media and devaluing the property—always one of the most watched events of the year— for Canadian rights holders.

Bell Media parent BCE and the NFL took the CRTC to court, arguing it overstepped its jurisdiction. After the order was upheld in Federal Court, the Supreme Court ruled Thursday that the CRTC did not have the power to end Super Bowl simsub.

The decision is good news for Canadian media organizations struggling to monetize their properties when consumers have so many media options to choose from.

“We’re happy the issue has finally been resolved by the Supreme Court,” said Bell Media in a statement. “We thank our partners at the NFL for their ongoing support and look forward to providing Super Bowl LIV on CTV with simultaneous substitution.”

The ruling was also welcomed by Canadian advertisers and media buyers.

“The reversal of this policy order is vital to advertisers and to the entire Canadian broadcasting system,” said Ron Lund, president and CEO of the Association of Canadian Advertisers. “It ensures advertisers the ability to reach Canadian audiences with ads that are relevant to them.”

“Canadian broadcasters should be free to broadcast Canadian ads to Canadian viewers,” said Canadian Media Directors’ Council president Shannon Lewis in an e-mail statement to The Message. “We are thrilled that the Supreme Court agrees with this position and welcome the simsub ban reverse, as the two areas we need to protect are our audiences and the unique, relevant content that we serve.”

Canadians will get to see U.S. ads on YouTube and across social channels, said Mindshare’s chief strategy officer, Sarah Thompson. Simsub, she added, “allows Canadian advertising to connect with Canadians at a large tent pole broadcast event.

“For Canadian advertisers, it is a great night to show the very best creative you can create.”


David Brown