Sorry, but Super Bowl ads are not coming to Canada

·Chris Zelkovich

If Canadian politicians ever consider adding another holiday that can be celebrated across the land, here's a suggestion: How about National Whine-About-Super-Bowl-Ads Day?

It would have a lot more meaning than those other mid-winter holidays (Family Day?) mainly because carping about the fact that most Canadians don't get to see those pricey U.S. Super Bowl ads is one of this country's unofficial national sports. It's even more popular than arguing about who didn't make the Olympic hockey team or grousing about taxes.

Every year, usually about two weeks before the Super Bowl, Canada's broadcast regulator is flooded with phone calls and e-mails from citizens demanding to know why they're once again facing the dismal prospect of watching tired, old commercials during the game knowing full well that their American counterparts are falling off their overstuffed sofas laughing at the clever new Super Bowl commercials.

Americans are getting to see award-winning commercials, they rage, while we're stuck with those old Wendy's ads we've seen so many times we can mouth the inane words before they're spoken. The fate of the nation hangs in the balance.

The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) has had a lot of practice answering those complaints over the decades, though they had to call an audible this year when they received reports that cable giant Rogers Communications was telling callers that the CRTC was forcing channels to substitute cheesy Canadian ads for clever American ones. In other words, don't blame us for the issue -- blame the CRTC.

CRTC chairman Jean-Pierre Blais wrote a letter to Rogers last week demanding that it stop pointing the finger at his organization when viewers complain about being forced to watch Canadian signals on U.S. channels. The CRTC allows the practice, ostensibly to produce revenue to fund Canadian drama and comedy, but the fact is that it's the broadcasters' decision to decide whether or not to do it. (For the record, passing up this lucrative opportunity happens about as often as a Vancouver Canucks Stanley Cup victory.)

Rogers said it would endeavour to put out correct information -- imagine that! -- and added that the whole process ``is popular with our customers." Which customers, it didn't say, but one suspects they include those customers who own Canadian network stocks.

The fact is that anyone who wants to watch the unadulterated Super Bowl broadcast will have to get a big enough antenna to pick up signals from border cities, find some illegal website that's streaming a pirated version of the game, or spend the day south of the border.

Simultaneous substitution, as the process of replacing U.S. ads with Canadian ones is called, has been around for four decades and is likely to be around for at least another four more. It has become the lifeblood of Canadian broadcast television, producing millions of dollars in advertising.

According to sources, CTV is charging a top price of $170,000 for a 30-second commercial for Sunday's game and has sold out the inventory. While that seems like a pittance compared with the $4 million U.S. that Fox is demanding for its ads, it's the highest rate in the Canadian business and will produce a multi-million-dollar day for CTV.

If signal substitution weren't allowed -- or someone at CTV had a psychotic episode and decided to forgo the opportunity -- CTV would have to share its expected audience of 7 million viewers with Fox. With half the audience -- and it could be a lot smaller as Canadians stampede to Fox to watch the ads -- CTV's ad rates would be a lot smaller, too.

So, if you've been getting yourself all worked up about missing the ads again, just remind yourself that they're commercials -- the kind of thing you normally try to avoid. And take solace in the knowledge that while something like a stale Canadian Tire ad might replace a spectacular Budweiser commercial, at last the Canadian broadcaster isn't substituting in Nickelback for the halftime show.

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