Canada and the U.S. reached agreement late yesterday on a new NAFTA (now renamed the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement or USMCA). While much of the focus is on the dairy industry, dispute resolution, and the auto sector, the agreement will have significant implications for intellectual property, digital policy, and broadcasting. It will take some time to examine all the provisions, but the short-hand version is that Canada has agreed to extend the term of copyright, saved the notice-and-notice system for copyright infringement claims, extended the term of protection for biologics at significant long-term cost to the health care, agreed that Internet companies are not liable for third party content, extended border measures on counterfeiting, and promised to drop the CRTC policy that permitted U.S. commercials to be aired during the Super Bowl broadcast.
Post Tagged with: "simultaneous substitution"
As the NAFTA negotiations continue to inch along, one of the remaining contentious issues is the inclusion of a full cultural exception that would largely exclude the Canadian culture industries from the ambit of the agreement. The government has not been shy about speaking out against compromising on culture, noting the perceived risks of provisions that might permit foreign ownership of media organizations. Indeed, the culture issue has attracted considerable attention, with coverage pointing to media ownership rules and simultaneous substitution policies as hot button concerns. Yet as cultural groups cheer on the government’s insistence that cultural policy should be taken off the NAFTA table, the reality is that there remains plenty of room for compromise. This post focuses on three of the biggest issues: foreign ownership, simultaneous substitution, and the TPP culture exceptions.
Inconsistent Arguments and Questionable Claims: Bell Launches Yet Another Action Over CRTC’s Super Bowl Simsub Ruling
Jean-Pierre Blais’ term as CRTC chair was marked by dramatic changes in how policies were developed and in the substance of the policies themselves. As I wrote on his departure, Blais placed the Internet at the centre of the communications systems and worked to gradually revamp broadcast safeguards in an effort to make the Canadian system more globally competitive. With the appointment of new chair Ian Scott and vice-chair of broadcasting Caroline Simard, the established stakeholders will unsurprisingly test the new leadership to see if a change in approach is on the way. Yesterday, Bell took a major step in that direction as it asked the CRTC to rescind its order banning simultaneous substitution from the Super Bowl broadcast in Canada.
Bell had already filed a legal action, asked the government to intervene in the case, and ramped up lobbying pressure from the U.S., but the government rightly declined to overturn the decision with the case still before the courts. I’ve written extensively about the issue, making the case for why the CRTC got it right (if anything, it did not go far enough as simultaneous substitution has become less relevant as more subscribers cut the cable cord). After the Super Bowl broadcast, I argued that the viewership data largely vindicated the CRTC. Indeed, Bell’s data confirms that it massively over-estimated the impact of the simsub loss. In advance of the broadcast, it forecast a $40 million loss. It now claims an $11 million advertising loss, a fraction of its earlier estimate.
With the Super Bowl only a few weeks away, an unusual coalition comprised of the National Football League, Bell Media, Canadian advertisers, and an actors’ union have launched a full lobbying blitz aimed at overturning a 2015 ruling that will allow Canadians to view both the U.S. and Canadian feeds of the game. The change addresses longstanding frustration with Canadians’ inability to view U.S. commercials during the Super Bowl, since simultaneous substitution policies dating back to the 1970s allow Canadian broadcasters to block U.S. signals and substitute their own feed and commercials.
My Globe and Mail opinion piece notes that the fight to block the U.S. feed has led to some unlikely arguments. CRTC critics who typically call on the regulator to get out of the way are now calling on it to impose the simultaneous substitution rules. Meanwhile, in an odd role reversal, the NFL is emphasizing the Canadian culture benefits of blocking its U.S. broadcast and ACTRA, which issued a press release calling the Super Bowl ruling balanced and protective of the public interest when it was first unveiled, is going to bat for Canadian coverage of a U.S. sporting event.
Upon Further Review, the Ruling Should Stand: Why the CRTC Made the Right Call on the Super Bowl Simsub Ban
The CRTC’s 2015 decision to ban simultaneous substitution from the Super Bowl broadcast starting in February 2017 has generated renewed criticism in recent days as the NFL, Bell, and the U.S. government launch a lobbying blitz against the decision that will take effect with this season’s game. The league, broadcaster and their supporters argue that the inability to block the U.S. feed will mean lost revenue for the Canadian broadcaster and presumably reduced licensing revenue in the future for the NFL as the Canadian rights may be viewed as less valuable.
Despite claims about damage to Canadian broadcasting, the ban on simultaneous substitution for the Super Bowl does not eliminate the ability of the Canadian broadcaster to air its own commercials. In fact, the use of simultaneous substitution for the Super Bowl is an outlier when compared to the broadcast of most other major sporting events in Canada. Whether the Stanley Cup finals, the World Series, the Olympics, or the World Cup, Canadians typically have access to both Canadian and U.S. feeds. Canadians often opt for the Canadian version, perhaps because they like the commentators or the Canadian-oriented coverage. No one suggests that Canadian access to the Stanley Cup finals on NBC or the World Series on Fox (Sportsnet uses the international feed and many commented this year that they preferred that version that included Buck Martinez on colour commentary) eradicates rights or eliminates the ability for a Canadian broadcaster to successfully air the same event.