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Simultaneous substitution (known also as simsubbing or signal substitution) is a sometimes controversial practice mandated by the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) requiring Canadian cable, direct broadcast satellite and multichannel multipoint distribution service television distribution companies to substitute the signal of a foreign or non-local television station with the signal of a local or regional over-the-air station when the two stations are airing identical programming simultaneously.

In effect since 1972, the practice is sometimes erroneously called simulcasting, the name of a practice different from simultaneous substitution in that there is no signal replacement. A variant of simultaneous substitution, known as syndication exclusivity, also occurs in the United Statesmarker.

Simultaneous substitution has become controversial due to the fact that its implementation will often pre-empt signals of US networks available in Canada such as those of ABC, CBS, Fox and NBC. Perhaps the most notable example of this occurs during the broadcast of the Super Bowl football championship. The Canadian network with broadcast rights to the game is eligible to request that the US network's signal be replaced in Canada with its own signal, so long as both broadcasts are aired simultaneously. The result is that the famous US Super Bowl commercials are virtually blocked from viewing in Canada.

According to the CRTC, the practice of simultaneous substitution is necessary "to protect the rights of broadcasters, to enable TV stations to draw enough advertising dollars and to keep advertising dollars in the Canadian market". Canadian broadcast television networks, who must request each and every substitution on an individual basis, have been criticized for exploiting the regulation and not investing enough money into Canadian content.


Through the 1950s, CBC was the monopoly broadcaster in Canada. In 1960, the Board of Broadcast Governors, predecessor to the CRTC, granted licenses for commercial stations in order to provide an alternative to CBC. These broadcasters began operating in 1961, and acquired Canadian rights to many US programs.

As approximately 30 percent of the Canadian population — those who were close enough to the US border — had access to over-the-air (OTA) broadcast signals from both Canadian and US networks, they could choose to watch American programs on either a Canadian or US network. Many of these Canadians chose to watch the US network (i.e. CBS, ABC or NBC) rather than the Canadian network feed. Consequently, many Canadian broadcasters began airing their US-purchased programs in advance of the US broadcaster to attract more viewers and earn money from Canadian commercials, and some Canadian businesses who advertised on the Canadian stations also bought airtime on the American stations receivable in the same areas.

As cable television began to proliferate across Canada in the early 1970s, viewers far from the US border were beginning to obtain access to US signals that were once unobtainable. In 1972, as response to pressure from Canadian broadcasters, the CRTC introduced the simultaneous substitution regulation as a method to circumvent diminution of the value of Canadian networks' exclusive broadcast rights to US programs. Through the 1990s, as satellite television services gained popularity and were eventually licensed in Canada, simultaneous substitution became a requirement on these services as well.

By the late 1990s and into the 2000s, the simultaneous substitution regulation had reached its full potential, with Canadian broadcast networks airing almost all of their US-purchased programming in sync with the US network's broadcast to ensure maximum eligibility to request substitution.


The high incidence of simultaneous substitution requests by privately-owned Canadian television networks to draw advertising dollars has had profound effects on various spectrums, ranging from Canadian network schedules to portions of programming being lost due to mistimed substitutions.

Network schedules

As private Canadian broadcast networks such as CTV, Global, A and Citytv often rely heavily on US-originating programs, their programming schedules are often heavily affected by the schedules of corresponding United States network broadcasters. For example, if Fox, a US network, were to move their series House to a new time slot, the Canadian broadcaster of first-run episodes of that program would need to move their broadcast of House to correspond with the new Fox time slot if they wished to retain simultaneous substitution rights.

In some instances, American television stations near the border — especially those in small markets which depend on their audience in a nearby Canadian market for their financial viability — have intentionally counter-programmed against this rule by altering their schedules in order to avoid substitutions. In one notable instance, WFFF-TVmarker in Burlingtonmarker, Vermontmarker got into an extended scheduling war with CJNT-TVmarker in Montrealmarker over daily strip reruns of That '70s Show.

Many US networks air their most popular programming during prime time hours, meaning that in order to maximize simsub opportunities Canadian private broadcasters are often unable or unwilling to air their own original programming during these hours. As a result, Canadian content programming is commonly scheduled as a secondary concern, to fill holes where an American program cannot be placed for substitution. This issue has also extended beyond scripted entertainment programming — between 2003 and 2007, all three major networks in Canada faced criticism for at least one incident in which the network seemingly deemed a live Canadian news or cultural awards program to be less important than simsubbing an American reality show. In 2007, CTV was forced to back down on a plan to tape-delay the 2007 Juno Awards in order to maintain its simsub rights to an episode of The Amazing Race; in 2003, Global offloaded its coverage of the Ontario provincial election to its secondary CHmarker system in order to maintain simsub rights to an episode of Survivor: Pearl Islands; and in 2006, CBC Television was criticized when it announced a plan to bump its primary network newscast, The National, to a later time one night a week in order to simulcast The One: Making a Music Star.

Portions of programming lost

Due to the high number of simultaneous substitutions requested by Canadian broadcasters, portions of programming are sometimes lost. This may occur for a variety of reasons, including the cable provider erroneously timing the substitution or substituting over the wrong distant signal, or the broadcaster making a scheduling error when requesting substitution.

With the increasingly common practice of American stations extending programs for a minute or two into the start of the next hour in order to avoid audience loss, such errors are sometimes unavoidable if the Canadian station is not able to match the altered start time.

High-definition television

High-definition television (HDTV) feeds must also be simultaneously substituted, but due to the lack of local over-the-air HDTV transmitters outside of major markets (such as Vancouvermarker and the Greater Toronto Area), HD simsubs are not very common outside of the aforementioned areas.

Although the CRTC's policy regarding HD simultaneous substitutions do not require them to be applied if the quality of the Canadian feed is not equal or better than the US feed, there have been instances in which inferior Canadian feeds were substituted over higher-quality US feeds. In such cases, complaints can be filed to the CRTC, whereas the commission will confer with the applicable BDU and Canadian network about the issue.

On-screen graphics

Implementation of simultaneous substitutions can also cause issues involving digital on-screen graphics (or "bugs") applied by the originating broadcaster. Some Canadian broadcasters (primarily stations owned by CTVglobemedia) overlay opaque bugs over the US bug, while others (such as Canwest-owned stations) add their own bug to a different area of the screen.


Enforcement, or lack thereof, of the regulations has led to instances where some Canadian cable and satellite subscribers are able to receive the original American channels in Canada without simultaneous substitution.

For example, many viewers in the Greater Toronto Area can pick up American channels from Buffalomarker, New Yorkmarker over the air, as well as unmatched high definition versions of the stations from both Buffalo and Seattlemarker, Washingtonmarker on cable. Many viewers from Toronto were able to watch these channels for events such as the 2008 Super Bowl where there are no Canadian commercial interruptions. However, following a complaint filed by CTVglobemedia in 2008, the CRTC has tightened up enforcement, issuing a statement that the 2009 Super Bowl standard and high definition broadcasts must be simsubbed for providers within range of CTV's OTA transmitters.

Simsubs and satellite

In terms of satellite, the practice of simsubbing depends on the company. Shaw Direct invokes simsubs according to the subscriber's postal code, and is implemented by the subscriber's receiver; this method enforces simsubs only in areas where they are needed. Even in areas where they are enforced, some worked their way around this by unplugging their receiver at the start of the program and plugging it back in.

Bell TV invokes simsubs to all subscribers nationwide, implemented by its uplink centre; by doing so, simsubs for a particular channel are implemented nationwide, regardless of where the subscriber lives or which feed the subscriber watches. Bell TV has also simsubbed TSN feeds, even though legally they are not required to because it is a specialty service (however, Bell owns a minority share in the network).

See also


  1. Signal substitution replaces one TV signal with Retrieved on March 7, 2009.
  2. Canadian Super Bowl fans shut Retrieved on March 7, 2009.
  3. Simultaneous substitution on cable TVCanadian Communications Foundation. Retrieved on March 7, 2009.
  4. SimulcastingMerriam Webster. Retrieved on March 7, 2009.
  5. CTV backs down on Juno air Retrieved on March 7, 2009.
  6. CRTC looks to retool Canadian Retrieved on March 8, 2009.
  7. Beaty, B: Canadian Television Today, page 71. University of Calgary Press, 2006.
  8. CJNT & WFFF, A War over Canadian commercials heats up. TVHat via
  9. Extended episode of House could plague DVR usersLos Angeles Times. Retrieved September 13, 2009.

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