Court rules against Bell in bid to overturn ban on U.S. ads airing during Super Bowl

Canadians TV watchers may get to see those U.S. advertisements that air during the Super Bowl after all, following a recent court decision.
Peyton Manning holds the Vince Lombardi Trophy after the Denver Broncos won Super Bowl 50 over the Carolina Panthers in February 2016. (Marcio Jose Sanchez/The Associated Press)

Canadians TV watchers may get to see those U.S. advertisements that air during the Super Bowl after all, following a recent court decision.

The Federal Court of Appeal ruled Friday in favour of a Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission move to ban the replacing U.S. ads with Canadian ones during the broadcast of the game, a practice dubbed simultaneous substitution.

The CRTC signalled back in January 2015 that it would allow simultaneous substitution, or simsub, to continue generally, but it would be banned on all specialty channels, and during the Super Bowl beginning with the 2017 match. 

CRTC chair Jean-Pierre Blais said back then that viewers indicated they disliked simsub.

"They tell the CRTC — and we receive many complaints — that they want to see the newest American commercials as and when they are broadcast," Blais said.  "And they rightly resent the fact that simsub is often mistimed, causing viewers to miss, for example, key plays during a big game."

Bell appealed the broadcast regulator's move, and the NFL joined in as an intervener.

Bell argued that the policy change would mean ad revenue losses for Canadian media that had paid for Super Bowl broadcast rights. Bell Media has the exclusive Canadian broadcast rights to the Super Bowl until the 2018-2019 season.

On August 19 of this year, following the court hearing on Bell's appeal, the CRTC issued a formal order blocking simsub.

In last week's decision, which was written by Justice Yves de Montigny, with Justice Johanne Gauthier and Justice Richard Boivin in agreement, the court ruled against Bell's appeal "on the basis of it being premature" because it was made before the regulator issued its formal order.

The court said it was aware of the August 2016 formal order from the CRTC but commented that it "ought not to express any views as to its legality."

Bell has indicated it will appeal the court's ruling in short order, saying that the company, the NFL and Canadian advertisers need clarity well in advance of the game.