Canadian Supreme Court overturns Super Bowl ad ruling

The Supreme Court of Canada has overturned a contentious ruling by the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission concerning the viewing of US television commercials during domestic broadcasts of the NFL’s Super Bowl game, stating that the regulator had overstepped its authority in its original ruling.

The Supreme Court ruled 7-2 yesterday that the CRTC did not have the power to ban the practice of so-called simultaneous substitution of advertising, following a challenge from the NFL and telco Bell Media, its Canadian media rights-holder, that had been lodged and rejected by the Federal Court of Appeal.

Supreme Court said in its ruling: “The order was issued on the basis of an incorrect interpretation by the CRTC of the scope of its authority.”

The so-called simultaneous substitution of ads is a bone of contention with sports fans upset that they cannot watch US ads during the Super Bowl, a major part of the broadcast experience for the NFL’s showpiece game.

In January 2017, Bell-owned Canadian pay-television broadcaster CTV said that Super Bowl LI would be broadcast on a triple-simulcast basis for the first time, as the NFL said it raised the issue of the CRTC’s advertising ruling with the newly-formed US government.

CTV said in the lead-up to the 2017 game that Canadian fans could visit BigGameAds.ca, a platform hosting all the latest American Super Bowl adverts. The site directed visitors to the best new ads as they are released in advance of the game, as well as fan-favourite ads from previous seasons.

The concept of advertising during the Super Bowl has proved a contentious one in Canada following a ruling by the CRTC in January 2015. The regulator banned the substitution of Canadian advertising over US advertising during major sporting events such as the Super Bowl.

The 2017 Super Bowl was the first time that Canadians tuning in to Fox, the broadcaster of the game in the US, were able to watch the high-budget American adverts. Canadian ads were still played on CTV.

The CRTC’s decision angered Bell, which in June 2017 agreed a multi-year extension to its NFL rights deal, along with Canadian advertisers and the league itself. Bell had claimed the regulator’s ruling cost it viewers, along with millions of dollars in ad revenue.

Reacting to Thursday’s Supreme Court ruling, Bell Media told the Canadian Press news agency that the company is “happy the issue has finally been resolved by the Supreme Court”.

Bell Media said it looks forward to broadcasting the next Super Bowl on CTV with simultaneous substitution.