Seeing Canadian Commercials on American channels

As you flip through TV channels, you may notice that you seem to see Canadian ads on American channels. This is the result of simultaneous substitution.

Simultaneous substitution

Simultaneous substitution is when your cable or satellite dish company temporarily replaces the entire signal of one TV channel with another channel that's showing the same program at the same time. Usually, an American signal is replaced with a Canadian signal. Sometimes, a Canadian signal from outside your area is replaced with a local signal.

A program that originates in the US may be showing in both Canada and the US at the same time. The Canadian broadcaster airs Canadian ads but the program is the same. So when program substitution occurs, you see the signal, including the Canadian commercials, on an American channel.

Reasons for simultaneous substitution

There are a few reasons for allowing simultaneous substitution:

  • To protect the rights of broadcasters:
    When broadcasters buy programs from American and Canadian producers or networks, they pay to have broadcast rights for their markets. Simultaneous substitution protects these rights.
  • To promote local broadcasting and local creation:
    By helping local stations keep their local audiences and the advertising dollars that go with those audiences, simultaneous substitution enables them to continue to operate and offers their viewers local as well as international programming.
  • To keep advertising dollars in the Canadian market:
    A lot of the time, an American signal is replaced with a Canadian one. Watching Canadian advertising instead of American ensures that advertising money is generated for the Canadian market.

Simultaneous substitution and TV picture quality

Simultaneous substitution shouldn't affect the quality of your TV picture. This means even if the original signal is replaced with a local Canadian signal, the broadcasting quality should be the same or better.

If you encounter problems

Problems can occur, for example, when:

  • a live sports event runs overtime
  • a TV station makes a last-minute programming change
  • the substituted signal isn't good enough

If you believe you have not received the appropriate level of service because of a simultaneous substitution error, you should file a complaint with us with the following information:

  • the date and time of the program;
  • the title or description of the program;
  • the channel number and name of the programming service;
  • the name of your television provider;
  • how the apparent error affected your ability to the watch program.

File a complaint

Addressing simultaneous substitution issues

During the Let's Talk TV conversation and for a number of years, Canadians have complained that simultaneous substitution mistakes cause them to miss certain parts of live events. For instance, it causes them to miss important plays during a football game or part of a presentation at an awards ceremony.

However, despite its irritations, simultaneous substitution is still necessary to provide over-the-air broadcasters with the financial support they need to continue offering high quality programming to Canadians.

To address this issue, the CRTC intends to introduce regulatory measures to deal with simultaneous substitution errors, to ensure it is done properly:

  • If the mistake is made by cable and satellite companies, they may be required to provide customers with a monetary rebate
  • If the mistake is made by over-the-air (OTA) stations, they may lose the privilege to request simultaneous substitution for a period of time or for certain programming

Examples of a substantial simultaneous substitution error include:

  • where you miss any part of a program that begins or ends on the hour or half hour, as scheduled;
  • where you miss more than one minute at the beginning or end of a program that does not start or end at the scheduled time;
  • where you miss any specific important part of a sporting event, including any scoring plays or moments that could be described as a critical part, or any time in the last period/quarter or overtime in any sporting event; or
  • where you miss any important part of a program.

Simultaneous substitution is eliminated for Super Bowl. Beginning with the 2016 NFL season, simultaneous substitution will not be allowed during the Super Bowl broadcast (which will be aired in early 2017).

Simultaneous Substitution Working Group

Following the Let's Talk TV proceeding, the CRTC required that representatives from various Canadian television stations and service providers and the Public Interest Advocacy Centre form a working group on simultaneous substitution. The mandate of this group is to examine measures to improve the performance of simultaneous substitution and to minimize errors and interruptions that occur and that are frustrating to viewers. The working group's first report is now available.

Policies, Decisions and Orders

Simultaneous substitution errors (Broadcasting Information Bulletin CRTC 2015-329)

Regulatory measures to prevent substantial and avoidable simultaneous substitution errors (Broadcasting Regulatory Policy 2015-25)

Super Bowl Ads

You said you want to see Super Bowl ads live. We heard you. Learn more at Seeing Canadian Commercials during the Super Bowl.