The Superbowl looms large as a mega-event across North America.
Obviously, serious football fans know what’s on tap and care about the outcome. They are joined by millions of casual – even indifferent – viewers, who mainly tune in for the spectacle. There aren’t that many group events that gather this many eyeballs – all at the same time – anymore. In that sense, the Superbowl remains a throwback to a simpler time.
Canadians watch the Superbowl with enthusiasm too. Mind you, football in Canada is a far less significant sport. There is a pro league here, even a Canadian Superbowl (The Grey Cup). But it’s all slightly different, including the playing field.
Grey Cup or Superbowl, I usually discover which teams are playing (and where) roughly the week beforehand. But I want to know who the half-time show features. (This Sunday it’s Beyonce.) I plan to watch bits and pieces. What I really want, though, are the ads.
Of course, they often disappoint. But sometimes the spots do amazing things. In just 30 or 60 seconds, a whole snapshot of popular material culture emerges. It’s a high-end display of the craft of visual media. It’s marketing on steroids. The ads say a lot, sometimes without meaning to.
TV viewers in Canada can get an avalanche of U.S. programing by way of cable. Depending on location, many can also pick up US broadcasts “off air”. What they won’t always get from cable are the U.S. ads – even if they are watching a U.S. network feed.
Why? Well, it’s a matter of regulation and rights.
Every year, this is such a matter of much viewer concern. So much so that Canada’s equivalent of the FCC actually addresses it on their website. (!) As explained by the CRTC:
Ads during the Super Bowl get a lot of hype, but during the live broadcast, Canadians often don’t see the same ads as those seen in the US.
The reason for this is that Canadian TV stations pay for the right to broadcast the Super Bowl in Canada. To finance that expense, those stations sell separate advertising during the game. In Canada, most of the advertising time is sold to Canadian advertisers who want to reach Canadian audiences. As a result, Super Bowl viewers in Canada see the Canadian ads instead of the ones that US viewers see. Canada and the United States are separate markets for television rights.
Even if you get US TV stations that broadcast the Super Bowl, these stations haven’t bought the rights to broadcast the game in Canada. So the American signal carrying the game is usually replaced with a Canadian signal through a process called signal substitution. For a number of years, the US ads have been available on the internet.
Starting on February 3, watch the American commercials on YouTube’s AdBlitz channel.
A search for “superbowl ads + Canada” produces scads of articles about this state of vexation and envy.
“It always a little rushed. They want it done by this Saturday,” said Russ Gray of Gray’s Radio and TV Service.
He’s been in business for 51 years. Wednesday, he was installing a 10-
(30-foot) TV antenna for a customer in Essex County, southeast of Windsor. The person wanted the job done in time for the big game.
“It always seems to be a last-minute thing. They only start thinking about it three weeks ahead,” Gray said.
A site called iPolicitcs (not generally given to covering sports) weighed in on the regulatory issues and how that plays against consumer’s desires.
Last year, the CRTC received nearly 200 complaints, questions, comments and queries about why Canada had different ads than the U.S. during the big game. Canadians want to watch the American ads so much, Google recently reported, that they search for the ads online more than any other country.
Of course, more and more of the ads in question are released ahead of the actual game, or can be seen on line at some point. It’s not like there’s only one crack at that bat.
But delay saps the collective experience of gathering for the big game and laughing (or eye-rolling) at the ads together with your own tribe, as all the other caves do the same. Fragmentation detracts from the “did you see?” chatter at the usual water hole the next day.
In that sense, Canada feels very left out.