This morning, a spokesman for Bell Media announced that the company would be laying off an undisclosed amount of workers at over two dozen locations. With over 6,000 employees, Bell is Canada’s largest media company. They are the parent company of Canadian sports giant TSN and they have broadcast partnerships with several prominent United States media companies, including HBO and Viacom. Here’s how the company explained their decision to cut jobs:
“The restructuring is the result of the challenges Bell Media and other Canadian media companies are facing due to increasing international competition, the evolution of broadcast technologies, and advertising and regulatory pressure.”
The “regulatory pressure” that they refer to is a decision made by the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission in August (and first announced in 2015) that opens up Canadian Super Bowl broadcasting to air American ads. It’s a convoluted case, in which the NFL has asked Donald Trump to intervene, and while Canadians now being able to watch the same moronic commercials Americans do seems like a fairly trivial result, it’s actually a fairly weighty decision. Let’s get into it.
Bell Media’s CTV station currently holds exclusive rights to broadcast the Super Bowl in Canada until 2019. Canadians have to watch Joe Buck and Troy Aikman regardless, but when the game cuts to commercial, they are instead served Canadian ads in an otherwise American broadcast*. It’s a practice known as simultaneous substitution, which allows Bell to sell their own ads and not have to compete with American ads. Simultaneous substitution is what CRTC banned with their order in August.
The order only applies to the Super Bowl, and the CRTC said they chose to ban simultaneous substitution because big, dumb American ads are an “integral element of the event.” They claim, perhaps never having watched an American Super Bowl broadcast, that the new regulation is in the best interests of the public. Bell has been appealing the decision since it was announced, but they’ll have to eat the lost revenue. The companies that advertise on Fox will get exposure in Canada without having to pay Bell a dime.
By their own in-house calculations, “millions of dollars.” Bell says they need to sell ad space to recoup the hefty fee they paid for broadcasting rights. They also claim that Canada’s largely maple syrup-based economy will suffer because of the consequences of the CRTC’s decision.
With the ban of SimSub during the SUPER BOWL, American companies are being handed additional exposure to millions of Canadian consumers, at no additional cost. Simply put, the CRTC is taking money out of the Canadian economy and putting it in the hands of American companies.
Further, they cite a statistic that the CRTC only received 100 complaints last year about not being able to see American ads. (This isn’t really the hard evidence that Canadians don’t give a shit about seeing big-budget conversation-piece ads they present it as.)
Bell and the NFL went to the prime minister’s office, which declined to weigh in on the issue at all, deferring to CRTC’s authority as an independent body. According to the National Post, the NFL also went to President Trump on behalf of Bell and tried to get him to intervene.
“The President is aware. This is on his radar. We are hopeful this will be resolved prior to the Super Bowl,” said Jocelyn Moore, the NFL’s D.C.-based senior vice president of government affairs.
He has yet to weigh in. He’s been very busy.
*: Yeah, no, CTV doesn’t have its own broadcast crew.