Government of Canada
Symbol of the Government of Canada

Signal substitution – same program, different commercials

As you flip through TV channels, you may notice that you’re seeing Canadian ads on American channels. This is the result of signal substitution.

Signal substitution

Signal substitution is when a distributor temporarily replaces the 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, the only difference is that you see Canadian commercials on an American channel.

Reasons for signal substitution

There are a few reasons for allowing signal substitution:

  • to protect the rights of broadcasters
    When broadcasters buy programs from American and Canadian producers or networks, they pay to have exclusive broadcast rights in certain markets. Signal substitution protects these rights.
  • to enable TV stations to draw enough advertising dollars
    TV services earn most of their revenue from advertising. The advertising rates they can charge depend on the size of their audiences. Without signal substitution, the audience for one show would be split across several stations. This would reduce the size of the audience for each station. With that smaller audience, the TV station couldn’t charge as much for advertising. Signal substitution means that local stations keep their local audiences and the advertising dollars that go with those audiences.
  • to keep advertising dollars in the Canadian market
    A lot of the time, an American signal is replaced with a Canadian one. By replacing American ads with Canadian ads, advertising money is generated in the Canadian market.

Signal substitution and TV picture quality

Signal 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 have a problem with signal substitution, contact your distributor directly. You can also contact the CRTC and provide as many details as possible.

Related information

Super Bowl TV commercials – why are the ads different?