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A war over Canadian commercials heats up:

CH Montreal and Fox 44 put up their dukes

From May 4 2003. Update in italics, May 17 2003.
Some minor editing July 11 2004.

CH Montreal and Fox 44 are currently at war with each over whose commercials you get to see on TV. But as the fighting gets intense, the one person who gets neglected is you, the viewer.

An increase in the number of programming changes made lately by both stations, with little advance notice, have made finding your favorite shows difficult. And it’s all for the sake of an elaborate game of cat and mouse, resulting from the pursuit of BBM ratings within the CRTC rules which are designed to protect the Canadian industry.

As you may already know, Canadian cable and satellite companies are required by law to replace an American feed with a local or Canadian one whenever one is available. This practice is known as simulcast-substitution, or sim-subbing, for short.

But what you may not know is that not all American local stations are thrilled about this and that some find cleaver little ways to get around the rules. Fox 44 in Burlington, Vt. is one station which seems to be winning the war on sim-subbing.

Those who check out this site on a regular basis know that on the week of March 3rd, Fox 44 moved its Monday to Friday 7:30 PM broadcast of That ’70s Show to 7 PM. This was to avoid sim-subbing from CH Montreal which, until then, was entitled to exclusive rights to the same program by carrying the same episode every night at 7:30 PM. A week later, CH Montreal retaliated by also moving the show to 7 PM.

Now at this point, you’d think it be over, but it wasn’t. What CH Montreal didn’t know was that this was just the first step in what would turn out to be an overhaul of Fox 44’s weekday schedule. But still, they couldn’t possibly move That ’70s Show again within less than a month, as that would surely anger a lot of viewers who might give up on looking for their favourite show. But what if it there was a way for Fox 44 to have their cake and eat it too. What if it were possible to move the show again but without having the viewers notice. Well, in a way, they sort of did just that.

Like most syndicated reruns, there are actually two different strips (or editions) of That ’70s Show available to local stations, but the second strip is reserved exclusively to those who carry a full hour. On March 31st, Fox 44 added a second airing of That ’70s Show at 11 PM and, in doing so, gained access to that second strip. Then all they had to do was move the 7 PM strip to 11 PM and show strip #2 at 7 PM.

This meant that CH could no longer sim-sub and most home viewers wouldn’t notice a thing. Think about it, have you ever sat down to watch your favourite daily reruns of Drew Carey or Frasier and suddenly found yourself with the urge to call up the station and complain that syndication strip #1 was replaced by syndication strip #2? I didn’t think so.

But overall, the TV viewer is usually forgotten in a sim-sub war. Likely, the only reason why Fox 44 gave any consideration to the public in their latest programming move was to prevent them from being responsible for the straw that would break the camel’s back.

Like in any war, winning a sim-sub war is successful when preemptive strikes are used. All of the programming changes leading up to this were all made with very little advance notice, which left viewers scrambling to find their favorite shows. The TV Guide, printed weeks in advance, was of no help.

The beginnings of this war can traced back to early September. According to the original fall schedule, Global was suppose to air That ’70s Show in the afternoon but moved it to CH as soon it was learned that Fox 44 would be carrying it at 7:30 PM. But by then Global and CH had already printed a Fall TV Preview insert for The Montreal Gazette which had become outdated before it even reached the Saturday morning doorsteps of Montrealers.

Part of the problem is that, while Fox 44 is an American channel, some of the advertising is aimed at Montrealers. Fox 44 also mentions Montreal in their local IDs.

Then there is also the common belief that the rules of sim-subbing shouldn’t apply to syndicated reruns, where sim-subbing was unheard of until the late ’80s.

Now the only question left is will CH make lemons out of lemonade and recognize that they are still eligible to sim-sub That ’70s Show with WSBK?

Update: CH did recently begin simulcast-substitution of That ’70s Show with WSBK, within the past week or so, not long after this web page appeared. Yet, they had already been eligible, since March 10th, when CH started to carry the program at the same time as WSBK. Gee, do you suppose someone is actually reading this stuff?


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