Bell Media heads to court over CRTC’s Super Bowl ad ruling

The broadcaster tells the federal court of appeals that the CRTC has interfered with "Bell Media's rights and benefits under the NFL Agreement."
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CRTC chairman Jean-Pierre Blais thought he’d made a popular decision in late January to stop broadcasters from replacing Canadian commercials with much-hyped American ads during the Super Bowl, starting in 2017.

But a possible federal court challenge over ending simultaneous substitutions during the NFL championship game from Bell Media could toss the issue back in his lap.

Bell Canada and Bell Media’s motion for leave to appeal the CRTC’s Jan. 29, 2015 decision on NFL championship game ads, filed on Monday, takes the regulator to task for having “singled out one program, the Super Bowl.”

The broadcaster also tells the federal court of appeals that the CRTC has interfered with “Bell Media’s rights and benefits under the NFL Agreement,” which allows it to exploit its exclusive Canadian TV rights to the Super Bowl game by swapping in local ads into the U.S. feed.

“The power to make regulations does not include the authority to make regulations that have retrospective effect or interfere with vested contractual rights, unless that authority is conferred expressly or by necessary implication,” the motion from Bell Media stated.

“Nothing in the Broadcasting Act or any other statute gives the CRTC this authority. The CRTC therefore erred in law or exceeded its jurisdiction,” the broadcaster said.

Bell Media also Monday released the results of a Nanos poll it commissioned that indicated only 20% of Canadians see watching U.S. Super Bowl ads as more important than supporting domestic broadcasters.

According to sources close to the issue, speaking on background to Playback, Bell Media pockets between $22 million to $25 million annually from airing the Super Bowl game under current sim-sub rules.

Considering the broadcaster has the rights to the NFL championship game beyond 2017, the new Super Bowl ads policy from the CRTC stands to take a big chunk of money, possibly as much as $100 million away from Bell Media –  some of which would subsidize Canadian indie TV production.

It’s against that industry backdrop that Bell Media president Kevin Crull will deliver a keynote address on Friday at the Prime Time conference in Ottawa, a speech entitled The New Reality:  Broadcasting in Canada.

Crull won’t be alone among broadcasters in expressing his alarm over the CRTC’s new Super Bowl ad policy.

“It’s caused nervousness among broadcasters. They don’t understand the policy basis and the logical basis for the decision. It apparently was pandering to public support,” one participant in the recent Let’s Talk TV hearings told Playback Daily on background.

The current debate over sim-sub rules also comes ahead of the CRTC releasing another three decisions stemming from its Let’s Talk TV process on March 12.

From Playback Daily