Canadians buying TV antennas to watch Super Bowl ads

Canadians close to border towns are scrambling to find over-the-air TV antennas and rabbit ears just in time to watch Super Bowl ads.

In Windsor, Ont., requests for over-the-air receivers are a daily occurrence leading up to the big game

U.S. ads, like this popular Volkswagon one, are often not seen on Canadian broadcasts of the Super Bowl. (Associated Press/Volkswagon)

Canadians close to border towns are scrambling to find over-the-air TV antennas and rabbit ears in time for the Super Bowl.

Football fans, it seems, are just as excited about the highly-anticipated advertisements as they are about the outcome between Baltimore Ravens and San Francisco 49ers.

Very few of the U.S. ads, which companies spend millions of dollars to produce, air on Canadian cable or satellite broadcasts of the game.

Talent fees, rights issues and even products differ between the U.S. and Canada. It all makes it more difficult for ads to air north of the border.

The only way to get them free, over the air, is if a Canadian resident lives within reach of a U.S. broadcast. In Windsor, Ont., right across from Detroit, dealers and installers are getting almost daily — sometimes panicked — requests for the receivers.

"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-metre (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.

Daily requests

He’s been getting daily requests for Super-Bowl specific installations for weeks.  The same thing is happening at Krazy Kelly’s in Windsor, where Ed Langlois said he got an order Tuesday and expected more Wednesday.

Gray said the run usually begins shortly after Boxing Day, when people buy high-definition TVs at discount prices. He then uses the Super Bowl ads to his advantage to sell antennas and receivers.

"Sometimes it’s a bit of a selling point. It’s always a point to bring up," Gray said.

In the Greater Toronto Area, Serge Cormier of Dr. Sat said he's seen a run on free-to-air satellite installations leading into the Super Bowl. Those satellites provide a higher quality picture. He also said the GTA benefits from its location on Lake Ontario.

"If it wasn't for Lake Ontario, most of the GTA wouldn't get a signal and be able to watch Buffalo affiliates," he said.

Future Shop spokesperson Elliott Chun said the chain’s home entertainment department in general sees a spike in sales the week leading up to the Super Bowl.

New TVs are the most popular items, but he said the installation department also sees a spike in request to tweak over-the-air and satellite reception in preparation for the game.

The Super Bowl is the most-watched television event of the year. It drew an audience 111.3 million U.S. viewers in 2012. In Canada, last year's broadcast drew a record 8.1 million viewers.

It's also the most expensive event for U.S. advertisers, costing an estimated average of $3.4 million for a 30-second spot on NBC last year, according to ratings firm Nielsen.

Canadians watch ads more than game

Super Bowl advertisements are typically a flashy showcase of new cars, beer and technology products, often with celebrity appearances.

Last year, a Harris-Decima Canadian Press poll found that more Canadians planned to watch the Super Bowl ads than the football game itself.

University of Windsor marketing professor Vincent Georgie said Canadians should feel somewhat slighted about being blacked out.

"I’m not a football fan at all and I’ll still watch it because I want to see what the ads are," Georgie said. "The ads are so cool."

However, he said no Canadian should be "up in arms" about not seeing the ads. After all, he said, a Canadian broadcaster had to pay a licensing fee to show the game — and the broadcast fee doesn’t allow for the U.S. ads to be shown in Canada. Instead, a Canadian broadcaster will sell its own ad space for a fraction of the cost.

"There’s no such thing as free TV,"Georgie said. "We pay for it by watching ads."

Aside from airing on television, the ads also get plenty of mileage from being streamed on the Internet.

"For any of the hot ads you missed, go find them," Georgie said.

That's exactly what Canadians have been doing.

In an email, Google spokesperson Andrew Sartz said Canadians, more than anyone else, search for Super Bowl ads online.

In 2012, searches in Canada for 'super bowl commercials' were six per cent higher than compared to the U.S, and more than 11 times higher then Australia, the next country in the list.

On game day in 2012, searches in Canada for 'super bowl commercials' surged 22 per cent higher than in the U.S.

With files from the Canadian Press