U.S. politicians weigh in on simsub

Senators Marco Rubio and Ron Johnson have spoken out against the CRTC's ruling, but will their input prompt any action?
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As 2017 creeps closer, the CRTC’s order banning simsub during the Super Bowl is close to taking effect amidst outcry from Canadian politicians, Canada’s largest private sector union Unifor and even the NFL itself.

Now, the issue has caught the attention of U.S. Republican lawmakers. Senators Ron Johnson and Marco Rubio recently co-signed a letter to David MacNaughton, Canada’s ambassador to the U.S., urging him to consider their position against the matter.

“Undermining this business relationship [between the NFL and its Canadian broadcast partner] is not only unproductive, it also sends a troubling signal about the value Canada places on its largest trading partner, best customer, and close friend,” the letter stated (posted on iPolitics). MacNaughton has not yet issued a statement in response.

Randy Kitt, Unifor’s national representative for the media industry, expressed surprise to Playback sister publication, Media in Canada (MiC), after reading the letter.

“My reaction, the most polite I could be, is this: sometimes the support that you need comes from the most unexpected places,” he said, laughing.

Unifor had already taken a position against the ruling on the notion that it will put jobs at risk, and recently launched an online petition addressed to Canada’s heritage minister Mélanie Joly calling on her to overrule the decision.

“These types of CRTC decisions that de-regulate and are arbitrary and possibly discriminatory take a lot of money out of the Canadian content landscape,” said Kitt.

He cited the November 2015 layoffs of 380 people at Bell Media, which CEO George Cope stated in a conference call were necessary due to the changes the CRTC made to the industry with the Let’s Talk TV hearing.

“Our fear is that it’s just going to get worse,” said Kitt, who added that the CRTC received fewer than 100 complaints about simsub during the Super Bowl, a claim backed up by the CRTC in 2014.

Kitt said he was hopeful that the pressure from south of the border would lead to the decision being reversed before the Super Bowl in January, but he wouldn’t offer speculation on how likely that was.

Michael Geist, a law professor at the University of Ottawa and a blogger and columnist who regularly writes about media and heritage issues, told MiC that while the scale of the effort against the decision has been significant, he doesn’t see the CRTC changing course or the government intervening.

“Historically, the government has by and large sought to defer decisions to regulatory authorities,” he said. “An agency like the CRTC is likely to let the process run its course.”

He added that although he is neither explicitly in favour of or against the CRTC’s decision, he believes there are some false impressions for the public, and the predicted revenue losses are purely speculative. “There’s this perception that somehow the CRTC has banned Canadian commercials,” he said. “All they’ve said is that there can’t be simsub.”

He added that the Super Bowl is somewhat of an outlier from other major sporting events.

“The reality is for Canadians, the majority of the major sporting events are available on both a Canadian feed and a U.S. feed,” he said, citing the Olympics, the World Series and the recent MLS final. “No one ever seems to suggest that if it’s freely available on the U.S. channel means they’ll stop watching the Canadian feed. Canadians choose to watch on whatever channel for a number of factors.”

But ultimately, he said, “It’s up to CTV to provide enough differences and enough value add to ensure that people watch the Canadian broadcast itself.”