Simultaneous Substitution Working Group Report to the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission August 31, 2015

I. Introduction

  1. During the Let's Talk TVFootnote 1 consultation, there was significant discussion about the practice of simultaneous substitution. Several participants in the consultation noted the importance of simultaneous substitution to the continued health of the Canadian broadcasting system and recommended the formation of an industry working group to consider how to improve upon the execution of simultaneous substitutions in order to minimize errors and interruptions that sometimes frustrate television viewers. Footnote 2  Accordingly, the Simultaneous Substitution Working Group (the Working Group) first convened in early January 2015. The Working Group has grown to include representatives of every major broadcaster and broadcasting distribution undertaking (BDU),Footnote 3 a number of smaller independent broadcasters and BDUs, Mediastats,Footnote 4 the Public Interest Advocacy Centre (PIAC), and the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (the Commission). A full list of member organizations is attached as Appendix A.
  2. The Working Group has met regularly to identify the underlying causes of errors and establish new protocols, processes and recommended practices to help reduce these errors and ensure that Canadian television viewers have the best possible viewing experience. As an industry, this is the first time we have undertaken a comprehensive and collaborative effort to tackle these issues. While some solutions are a work in progress, members of the Working Group have already greatly benefitted from the increased communications between broadcasters and BDUs. This has helped the industry gain a better understanding of the individual challenges faced in implementing a technically complex process that is performed through both automated procedures and manual interventions. The Working Group submits this report to the Commission as an update on its activities and on the specific actions that have been taken since its inception.
  3. Broadcasters and BDUs understand that it is essential to work together to improve the viewing experience for Canadians. We recognize that the execution of simultaneous substitution can be disruptive for customers:  live events can run longer than their scheduled times, technical errors can happen, and program start and end times do not always line up exactly on the hour or the half hour. It should be noted that not all of these issues are unique to simultaneous substitution and may equally impact the viewing experience during programs that are not substituted. Regardless, the industry is striving to establish a higher standard in an effort to remedy those errors that do relate to simultaneous substitutions. The Working Group has come together to discuss openly the concerns and complaints expressed by our viewers and customers, and to collaborate and find solutions. We have identified a number of technical and executional challenges and where possible have proposed a number of changes to processes and communication protocols which we are hopeful will address many of the concerns and complaints we have heard. Our report outlines a number of new initiatives to implement these proposals. Given the need for periodic human intervention in the substitution process, these initiatives cannot eliminate all of the issues surrounding substitution. However, we believe they will improve Canadians' viewing experience.

II. Why Broadcasters Request Simultaneous Substitutions

  1. At its core, simultaneous substitution helps Canadian broadcasters protect their television program distribution rights, particularly for U.S. programs, and to realize the value of those rights, which they acquire at significant cost. In that context, broadcasters are no different than any other buyer of rights.
  2. Many U.S. television stations are accessible to Canadian viewers by over-the-air antenna or through a BDU subscription. These U.S. stations air some of the same programs as Canadian broadcasters, but have only paid for the broadcast rights in their respective local markets in the U.S. (e.g. Buffalo, Spokane or Burlington), and do not pay for the right to air the programs in the Canadian market. Simultaneous substitution permits a Canadian television station with programming rights in a U.S. program to request that BDUs substitute its signal for a U.S. signal when both stations are airing the same program at the same time. In this way, it supports the integrity of the Canadian rights market without reducing consumer access to programming or U.S. television stations, and without altering or deleting such signals.
  3. The simultaneous substitution rules therefore protect the program rights of Canadian stations and allow them to maximize their advertising revenues by ensuring that audiences are watching the programs on the Canadian station, rather than on the U.S. station airing the same program at the same time. Those revenues then fuel the Canadian programming investments made by these broadcasters. As the Commission noted in Broadcasting Regulatory Policy CRTC 2015-25 (BRP 2015-25), simultaneous substitution allows Canadian broadcasters "to fully exploit and monetize the programming rights they have acquired, to the benefit of their overall investment in the production of Canadian programming". Footnote 5
  4. Simultaneous substitution is also important to the discoverability of Canadian programming. Without it, Canadian viewers tuning in to programs on U.S. stations would not see the promotions, station breaks, and segments that highlight Canadian programs, all of which are provided by the Canadian station when it is substituted over the U.S. feed.
  5. Live events like sports, awards shows and reality television finales are especially important in terms of their value to Canadian viewers and broadcasters. Broadcasters pay a premium to secure the program rights for live events, as they generate significant and immediate audience interest. The Commission noted in BRP 2015-25 that "[of] the acquired programming rights, live event programming is more likely to be watched in real time with commercial interruptions than other types of programming, and as such remains a valuable type of programming for local television broadcasters'. Footnote 6  The proper execution of substitutions before, during and after these live events is therefore essential to both broadcasters and BDUs, who want to ensure that the process is as seamless as possible for their viewers and customers.

III. Overview of the Simultaneous Substitution Process

1) The Broadcasting Distribution Regulations

  1. The Broadcasting Distribution RegulationsFootnote 7 (the Regulations) outline the requirements under which BDUs must perform simultaneous substitutions for television stations. Footnote 8  In general, where a broadcaster's written request for simultaneous substitution is received at least four days before the date on which the program is to be broadcast, BDUs must delete the programming service of a lower priority television station and substitute it with the programming service of a local or regional television station. The program in question must be "comparable and simultaneously broadcast" by both stations in order for the simultaneous substitution request to be considered valid. The Regulations define comparable as meaning that not less than 95% of the video and audio components of the program are the same between the two programming services, exclusive of commercial messages. Footnote 9  Since it is impossible for a BDU to assess whether a simultaneously substituted program meets the 95% standard during the course of the broadcast, it is understood that if a broadcaster has requested the simultaneous substitution, it is because the program meets both conditions: it is simultaneously broadcast and it is comparable.
  2. The practical effect of the Regulations is that a local or regional Canadian television station may only request simultaneous substitution where either:
    1. A U.S. station is airing the same program at the same time. For example, in the Greater Toronto Area, the U.S. network CBS and the Canadian television station CHCH Hamilton both broadcast 60 Minutes on Sunday evenings at 7:00 pm; or
    2. An out-of-market Canadian station is airing the same program at the same time. For example, in Montreal, CTV Montreal and CTV Toronto, which may be received as a part of a BDU customer's programming package, both air The Big Bang Theory on Thursday evenings at 8:00 pm.
  3. In both cases, the local or regional Canadian television station may request simultaneous substitution from BDUs.

2) How Broadcasters Request Simultaneous Substitution

  1. Canadian television stations request simultaneous substitutions through a weekly schedule grid sent to Mediastats, the third party that coordinates these requests for all broadcasters in Canada. The use of a third party is essential since it acts as an intermediary to ensure that broadcasters' simultaneous substitution requests do not conflict. If there is an overlap between requests, Mediastats works with broadcasters to resolve the conflict before the formal substitution request is sent to BDUs. Mediastats also verifies change requests that call for the cancellation of, or other change to, a substitution and considers the implications, if any, for other broadcasters who may have requested a substitution. There is wide acknowledgment within the Working Group that Mediastats is extremely effective at providing this service. In addition, Mediastats is actively participating in the Working Group and has made valuable suggestions to enhance the coordination and implementation of substitution requests.
  2. The Regulations require that substitution requests be made at least four days before the broadcast. Mediastats provides a weekly amalgamated programming log (which starts on Saturday and ends the following Friday) to broadcasters and BDUs, typically by the Tuesday before the start of the week in question. This log specifies what programs are to be simultaneously substituted, at what times and over which networks. With the increasing occurrence of unscheduled programming changes, it is becoming more common for cancellations or changes to substitution requests to be issued, after the weekly schedules are released. In an effort to minimize disruption to customers, BDUs will generally make the changes as long as they receive a request within several hours of the substitution. The Working Group notes that the broadcasting industry is able to implement the vast majority of late cancellations or changes without any negative impact on television viewers.

3) How BDUs Implement  Simultaneous Substitution

  1. In all cases, BDUs endeavour to provide a seamless experience for their customers. However, among BDUs, different hardware and software technologies are used to implement substitutions, and these differences may impact their ability to react to changes and make live adjustments to substitutions. Most terrestrial BDUs (i.e. cable or IPTV) have centralized broadcast operations from which they perform simultaneous substitutions. For these BDUs, the substitution of the local channel over a distant or lower priority channel, for each licensed area, is done within its centralized broadcast facility before the video signals are distributed to subscribers. Satellite technology is different: either a virtual channel override (VCO) occurs at the individual set-top box level or the channel substitution is performed at the location of the satellite uplink. VCO results in a localized substitution, while in the other method the channel substitution is completed by substituting a single local signal over each of the eastern or western U.S. network feeds.
  2. In addition, BDUs also use different systems to actually switch the video signals for simultaneous substitutions. These differences impact the way a given BDU implements simultaneous substitutions, and, more importantly the speed at which it can react to unexpected changes to a pre-scheduled substitution and action the manual interventions that such changes necessitate. For example, where live programming runs longer than scheduled, a BDU operator must hold the next scheduled substitution to ensure that it does not interrupt the live program still in progress. In all cases, manual interventions are not instantaneous and can take a few minutes to complete. For some BDUs, by virtue of the technology they use and/or the volume of changes required, interventions are a more complex and time-consuming process. As a result, the simultaneous substitution experience can be different for consumers depending on the BDU to which they subscribe.
  3. Simultaneous substitutions would be impossible to manage on a purely manual basis given the number of substitutions performed every day. Accordingly, BDUs generally implement simultaneous substitutions on an automated basis. Most do so using a software application called Cable Program Substitution.Footnote 10 BDUs that do not use this application use other software to execute the signal switches. CPS was built exclusively for the Canadian market for substitution purposes, and has been in use for over 14 years. CPS directly imports the files containing substitution requests and communicates with a video stream switcher(s) that executes the switch from one television signal to another at the scheduled start of a substitution. The switcher then executes a switch back to the original signal at the scheduled time. Every year, CPS controls almost two million substitution switches on a variety of platforms (analog, digital, transport streams, etc. ). Special features are available for BDUs to group multiple events across many regions and to support "holding" (i.e. not allowing a substitution to begin at its pre-scheduled time) thus better enabling the switching of live events without errors. The automated switching processes in the various applications can be manually manipulated by BDU operators when required. BCI, the company that designed and maintains the CPS application, is currently working with the Working Group to help integrate various process improvements that will improve the substitution process. These new features, which will be adopted and become operational across most BDUs later this year, are discussed in greater detail in Section V.
  4. While the vast majority of substitutions are implemented on an automated basis and without error, BDUs also have manual monitoring processes in place to ensure that unexpected substitution irregularities do not impact programming, especially those associated with live events. These are described in further detail later in this report. BDUs all strive to perform signal substitutions in an error-free manner, particularly given that any incident which negatively impacts the viewing experience results in lower customer satisfaction. That said, the unpredictability of live programming, the technological limitations faced by some BDUs in rolling out last-minute changes to scheduled substitutions, and the possibility for human error inherent in manual intervention means the risk of a simultaneous substitution error cannot be completely eliminated. The Working Group's objective is to minimize errors to the greatest extent possible, by putting in place improved practices and procedures.

4) What the Viewer Sees

  1. For the viewer, simultaneous substitution is intended to be seamless. When a viewer tunes in to a program on a station affiliated with a U.S. network, such as NBC broadcasting out of Buffalo, the only observable indication that the station has been substituted with a Canadian station should be that the viewer receives Canadian advertisements rather than American ones. Other than that, because the programs air simultaneously on both stations and the commercial breaks occur at the same time, there should be no observable interruption to the program being viewed.

IV. Identifying Key Issues

  1. Upon its creation, the Working Group focussed on establishing the group's objectives, its mandate and on reaching out to other broadcasters, BDUs and interested parties to participate. The group has met regularly by teleconference since late February 2015. The initial meetings of the Working Group were dedicated to gaining a better understanding of the processes utilized by each participating company to implement simultaneous substitutions. This included dedicated breakout sessions for each of the broadcasting and BDU members to review the practices and tools they currently use, and discuss common issues and challenges. In May 2015, the Working Group convened for a half-day in-person meeting in Toronto to identify all relevant issues and opportunities for improvements. In the course of these meetings, the Working Group identified three key sources of viewer disruptions and possible improvements that could  reduce the occurrence of  errors: 

1) Live Event Programming

  1. The Working Group identified live event programming as providing the most challenges to error-free simultaneous substitutions. Ideally, a live program, such as a sporting event or an award show, would run for the exact duration of its scheduled time. In reality, these programs frequently run longer (and in some cases shorter) than their scheduled broadcast time. This inconsistency can then create a ripple effect, impacting the programming scheduled immediately after the live program. Broadcasters adjust their schedules in real time, by starting subsequent programs later or joining programs already in progress or inserting other filler programming.
  2. These challenges make the implementation of substitutions more complex. Since substitutions are pre-scheduled for set start and end times, when a program runs long or short, the substitution that is already active and in place, or a subsequent substitution which is scheduled to commence at a pre-determined time, may have to be manually adjusted. BDUs must then decide in real time how to manually adjust a given substitution in order to minimize the impact on viewers and ensure there is no loss in programming.
  3. In deciding how to best handle an early or late program ending, it is useful for BDUs to understand how the impacted Canadian broadcaster will adjust its programming lineup when the first substituted program runs overtime. For example, a Canadian broadcaster airs the program 60 Minutes and has requested simultaneous substitution over the U.S. station airing the program at the same time. 60 Minutes is broadcast after an NFL game. This game airs on the same U.S. station, but on a different Canadian station than the one with the substitution request for 60 Minutes. If the NFL game runs long, it will impact the start of 60 Minutes on the U.S. network. The Canadian station airing 60 Minutes may choose to delay the start of this program in order to match it to the start of the U.S. station's later broadcast. Alternatively, it may decide to simply air 60 Minutes at its scheduled time, thereby effectively cancelling a scheduled substitution. Even though BDUs live monitor the substitution process, unless the broadcaster has shared its intentions with them, BDUs will have difficulty implementing these live, last-minute adjustments.
  4. This uncertainty leaves room for error, as do other factors. First, as described above, not all BDUs employ the same technology to implement substitutions. The ability of a BDU to manually adjust a scheduled substitution by extending it or cancelling it is, in part, dependent on the technology and systems in place. Secondly, BDUs implement and oversee multiple substitutions at any given time. If manual intervention is required, it may involve taking action to modify the video signals distributed by multiple television stations, for multiple markets and service areas. Thirdly, on rare occasions there are also technical failures with the switching software used by BDUs that sometimes cause a substitution to remain in place longer than it should as the BDU operator trouble-shoots to resolve the problem. Finally, all of this involves human interaction, observation and reaction, which takes time to implement. When an operator observes that a substitution will need to be manually adjusted he or she must make a decision and take action. It may therefore take several minutes to reverse a substitution depending on the number of affected stations and markets and the technology employed by the particular BDU.
  5. Notwithstanding the above, the Working Group believes that with more effective procedures and improved communications between broadcasters and BDUs, the process can be improved and interruptions to programming can be reduced. In Section V, we describe several measures that the Working Group has already adopted and will adopt over the coming months, both through a revised substitution request process and improved communications tools.

2) Simultaneous Substitution Requests: Changes and Cancellations

  1. When a broadcaster must make a change to, or cancel a substitution request, there is a risk of errors occurring if that information does not reach BDUs in time. The Working Group identified that improving the manner in which changes and cancellations are communicated could help reduce errors. Mediastats sends data and instructions for simultaneous substitution requests to BDUs approximately one week ahead of the broadcast date. However, it is not uncommon for program schedules to change between the time the weekly instructions are sent and the scheduled broadcast time of a given program to be substituted. For example, a U.S. station may delay or pre-empt a program or switch an episode so that it now differs from the one the Canadian station had intended to air. Canadian stations must follow suit in order to match the timing and program with that of the U.S. station, otherwise their substitution request for that program will be invalid and could result in consumers missing unique programming airing on the U.S. station.
  2. Broadcasters communicate simultaneous substitution change requests to Mediastats, which then verifies those changes before sending a notice of that change or cancellation to the BDUs and broadcasters affected. Members of the Working Group expressed concern that communication in this area has not been ideal. In some cases, change requests have not always been received by Mediastats or relayed to BDUs in time for the changes to be implemented. As we describe in Section V, the Working Group in cooperation with  Mediastats has introduced new processes to verify that change and cancellation requests reach BDUs in advance of the broadcast in question.

3) Offset Minutes

  1. Another area that was identified as a source of viewer disruption relates to the way in which U.S. broadcasters sometimes air their programming. U.S. networks may extend the end of a program by as much as a minute or two. For example, a program beginning at 8:00 pm may not end until 9:01 pm. These kinds of schedule changes, which the Working Group calls offset minutes, are meant to encourage the audience of a highly-rated program to stay with the network into the next programming block, or simply to increase commercial time.
  2. The use of offset minutes for the end of one program (and the start of another) has the potential to impact Canadian viewers. Using the example above, at 9:01 pm, viewers of that program might switch the channel only to find that the program on the other station has already started. Or they may find that the scheduled recording of that program on their PVR ended at 9:00 pm, thereby omitting the last minute. However, these scenarios are not caused or created by substitution, nor are they unique to Canadian viewers; they may be experienced by all television viewers.
  3. Substitutions of U.S. programs are carried out by Canadian broadcasters by mirroring the schedule of U.S. stations distributed by BDUs in Canada. If programs are offset, they will impact the scheduling and implementation of substitutions. This is because the substitutions scheduled by a given Canadian broadcaster do not follow the entire schedule of a given U.S. station on any given night. Different programs are substituted from different stations, and this mix of substituted programs can be impacted by offset minutes in U.S. shows.
  4. For example, on Thursday nights during the 2014-2015 broadcast season the U.S. network CBS extended The Big Bang Theory by one minute, airing it from 8:00 pm to 8:31 pm. The program that followed it (Mom) was one minute shorter, airing on CBS from 8:31 pm to 9 pm. CTV is the rights holder for The Big Bang Theory, but not for Mom, which was carried by City. In the later timeslot, CTV scheduled The Goldbergs, an ABC show. In order to air The Big Bang Theory and The Goldbergs back-to-back, CTV had to make sure that The Big Bang Theory ended at 8:30 pm, so that The Goldbergs could then start at 8:30 pm. In effect, the CTV substitution request for The Big Bang Theory was scheduled to end at 8:30 pm, not 8:31 pm. CTV made up the one-minute difference with the U.S. network by reducing commercial or promotional time in its broadcast of the program. Canadian viewers received exactly the same content, and were able to watch The Big Bang Theory in its entirety.
  5. For those viewers watching the CTV signal, there was no on-air confusion or disruption of any kind. They watched all of The Big Bang Theory (with one minute less of commercial or promotional time), followed by all of The Goldbergs. For those viewers watching the CBS signal, they would have seen the CTV signal from 8:00 pm to 8:30 pm, and then the City substitution of Mom from 8:31pm to 9:00 pm. The only difference would have been that one minute between substitutions (8:30 pm to 8:31 pm). Since The Big Bang Theory aired on CBS until 8:31pm, a Canadian viewer watching CBS would have effectively watched the last minute of The Big Bang Theory twice: first, during the CTV broadcast of the show and its substitution over the CBS signal until 8:30 pm, and second when the substitution ended at 8:30 pm and CBS still had one minute left in its broadcast of The Big Bang Theory.
  6. Canadian broadcasters and BDUs recognize the impact that offset minutes can have. To the extent they do happen, we also recognize that the potential minute of duplicated programming at the end of a program is not ideal. While it is not possible to eliminate this practice, the Working Group has identified process enhancements to minimize the impact of offset minutes on our customers' viewing experience. Canadian broadcasters are in regular contact with U.S. networks and program suppliers in an effort to obtain the most up-to-date information about programs with offset minutes or changes to start or end times. The updated information is provided to Mediastats to ensure that substitution requests are as precise and complete as possible, and accurately relayed to BDUs in a timely manner to ensure that they can effectively monitor the substitutions.

V. Implementing New Measures

  1. To address the key issues identified above and provide an improved viewing experience to Canadians, the Working Group has been developing new measures and processes. Their adoption and implementation is a work in progress and this report sets out the efforts made to date. Accordingly, we wish to emphasize that some changes are interim measures until more formal ones can be adopted through system changes to the Mediastats request process. Other changes require time to troubleshoot, evaluate and refine as they are implemented by the industry.

1) Process Changes - Mediastats

  1. When a broadcaster requests a simultaneous substitution for a live event program, the request (via Mediastats) will typically instruct BDUs to "monitor (mon) end". This alerts BDUs that the program may run beyond (or less often, end before) its scheduled end time. Similarly, simultaneous substitution requests for programming that follows live events will typically include a "monitor (mon) beginning" request to indicate that the program being substituted may not start at the scheduled time, due to the preceding program potentially running long. These instructions are included as part of the data within the substitution requests. BDU operators are expected to monitor the broadcast and manually adjust the substitutions as necessary. However, except for the "mon end" and "mon beg" notifications, BDUs have in the past not received additional information that would assist them in managing substitutions of live events.
  2. Through discussions with the Working Group, Mediastats has developed a list of recommended process changes that will support the more effective implementation of live event substitutions as well as improve the process for changes and cancellations. The Working Group has approved the following changes, which Mediastats is undertaking to implement over the coming months.Footnote 11 
    • Move "mon beg", "mon end" and "HD" designations from the title of the program to their own data fields
      Currently, the program title data field for a simultaneous substitution includes additional information such as the monitoring instructions and the high definition (HD) program format designation. This means that multiple pieces of information are currently being included within one field, which is not ideal from a data analysis standpoint. By moving these instructions into their own data fields, this data will be more visible to simultaneous substitution operators, making it easier for them to analyze.
    • Add seconds to the start and end times for simultaneous substitution requests
      Not all programs begin on the minute mark – for instance, some U.S. networks and  affiliates schedule their programs to begin on the thirty-second mark (e.g. 9:00:30 pm) as opposed to the minute (e.g. 9:00 pm). The addition of seconds to the start and end times of simultaneous substitution requests will give broadcasters the ability to request simultaneous substitutions to the second as opposed to the minute. The Working Group believes it is important to provide BDUs with the best possible tools for seamless simultaneous substitutions. Otherwise, viewers may be able to detect a disruption in their program which may cause frustration, either because they may have missed a few seconds of the program or have had to watch a portion of a program twice, which can be equally annoying to viewers.
    • Add a comments data field
      This new field marks the greatest change to the data provided by Mediastats. A comments field allows broadcasters to provide additional information to BDUs regarding their simultaneous substitution requests. For instance, comments such as "live game", "follows live game" and other selections will be available from a standardized drop-down menu to provide further context regarding monitoring instructions and to support BDUs in the execution of manual interventions. The Working Group is currently formalizing the list of standardized comments to be included in this new data field.
    • New summary reports of change and cancellation requests
      Mediastats will distribute a daily summary report which condenses all communications with respect to changes and cancellations. This summary report of the change requests gives broadcasters and BDUs an additional opportunity to review simultaneous substitution changes to ensure that nothing has been missed. Mediastats is currently in discussions with BDUs to determine the level of data to be included in the summary reports.
    • Availability of Mediastats after regular business hours for last-minute changes
      Mediastats has confirmed that it is available to support broadcasters in communicating last-minute changes related to simultaneous substitution requests when U.S. programming schedules change after daily change requests have already been distributed. When such last-minute changes arise, the Working Group has agreed that the broadcaster should notify the BDU distribution list, Mediastats, and any affected broadcasters via email to communicate this information as quickly and widely as possible. As the trusted source of all information related to simultaneous substitution requests, Mediastats will also distribute an urgent last-minute change request to all BDUs with the warning that it must be "read immediately" to ensure this information has been properly flagged for the staff responsible for performing/monitoring substitutions.

2) New Communications Tools

  1. We describe above several changes that will be implemented through the Mediastats request process to enhance monitoring instructions for live event programs. In addition to these changes, the Working Group has identified that improved communications and information sharing between broadcasters and BDUs could help to reduce errors and minimize viewer disruptions.
  2. New communication tools are intended to better equip BDUs to implement the substitution of live events specifically and all substitutions more generally. These tools facilitate the communication of broadcasters' off-air plans for live event programming to BDUs, as well as the real-time communication among broadcasters and BDUs during live event programming. The tools set out below are currently being tested and evaluated by the Working Group with a view to establishing recommended practices for the industry.

Broadcasters' Off-Air Plans

  1. Broadcasters make "off-air plans" for how they will react in the event that a live program runs long or short. For instance, if an important sports event is delayed due to weather, the Canadian broadcaster may decide to change its schedule to follow the revised schedule of the U.S. network in order to maintain its simultaneous substitution request of the event. Off-air plans may also be based on past trends with similar live event programs. Broadcasters requesting simultaneous substitutions for live event programming have begun to share their off-air plans with BDUs where live events historically run short or long.
  2. The Working Group has determined that when a broadcaster develops these off-air plans they should be communicated to BDUs via an email notice in advance of the event to be substituted, or where a prior live event may impact a subsequent substitution. The notices describe any history or trend with a given live event (e.g. an off-air plan for the Academy Awards broadcast may note that the program almost always runs late) and what the broadcaster plans to do if the program runs short or long. As these events are typically on weekends, these notices are sent as close as possible to the start of the weekend and use a standardized format for ease of reference for BDUs. The distribution list was developed with the cooperation of Mediastats to ensure that the appropriate personnel at BDUs receive these notices. The Working Group will endeavor to ensure the distribution list is up to date, for example when new entrant BDUs begin to implement substitutions. The notices are also copied to Mediastats for additional visibility and background.
  3. It is understood by the Working Group that the purpose of a notice is to provide supplemental, contextual information for BDUs and does not replace any information already communicated by Mediastats for the formal simultaneous substitution request. Accordingly, there should be no conflict between information provided in broadcasters' off-air plans and the simultaneous substitution request for the live event that the BDUs received from Mediastats. While a broadcaster's off-air plans may be helpful to BDUs, the Working Group recognizes that those plans may also change. BDUs are still expected to observe the specific monitoring instructions provided in Mediastats' requests and to actively monitor the live event to ensure the best possible implementation of simultaneous substitutions, and should never rely solely on the notices or any other supplemental information.
  4. This tool has already been adopted, with some broadcasters issuing notices of off-air plans in advance of certain live event programming. The preliminary feedback from BDU members of the Working Group is that, in conjunction with the instructions from Mediastats, these have been helpful in providing additional guidance to improve their implementation of the substitution requests. Until now, BDU operators were often put in a position of having to make snap judgment calls in real time and with little to no information as to whether a live event would run short or long and what broadcasters intended to do in the event that it did. Supplemental knowledge of broadcasters' plans for these situations greatly assists BDUs in their implementation of substitutions. The Working Group will continue to assess the effectiveness of this communication tool.

Live Communications During Live Event Programming

  1. Recognizing that a broadcaster's off-air plans are subject to change, the Working Group has also developed a real-time communication tool to allow broadcasters and BDUs to communicate during live event programming substitutions and substitutions in general. Testing of this tool and the development of recommended practices for its use are currently underway with the aim to more formally implement it in September 2015. In this report, we provide our findings to date.
  2. The Working Group reviewed a variety of online communications tools that are in-market to determine which one would best suit the needs of broadcasters and BDUs. Among the key requirements for the tool was that it provide real-time messaging for a large group, alert members of new messages, allow for the creation of multiple forums (or chat rooms) for different live event programs, to support the establishment of  clear lines of communication, and finally to be easy to adopt and use by users. After reviewing various options, the Working Group selected one particular online application and began testing it.
  3. In July 2015, volunteers from the Working Group performed a test run of a "dummy live event" on this tool to simulate a live sports event scenario, where the event was scheduled to end at 3:15 p.m. The broadcaster then communicated to BDUs that the event was running long and advised them to end the simultaneous substitutions at 3:25 p.m. instead. BDU volunteers for this test reported that the real-time messaging provided by this tool was easy to use and would be helpful in providing additional information to assist in the removal of simultaneous substitutions for a real live event.
  4. The online application can accommodate the creation of separate chat rooms dedicated to specific live events (e.g. "Golf broadcast on Global on July 19, 2015") and also includes a general chat room where broadcasters and BDUs can communicate about breaking news and other unforeseen interruptions to regular programming. To date, the test users have been able to alert each other of various instances of breaking news that could have or actually did interrupt a simultaneous substitution, including an address by US President Barack Obama and breaking news on weather alerts and sports. Test users have provided very positive feedback thus far, noting that real-time messaging allows BDUs and broadcasters to keep each other informally informed about broadcast and simultaneous substitution irregularities. With many BDUs monitoring multiple affiliate stations across multiple time zones, a tool that encourages more cooperation and sharing of information has been very welcome.
  5. Since this initial testing, the Working Group has developed a user guide for the use of this tool and invited additional broadcasters and BDUs to join and participate. Next steps include further user testing and the development of recommended practices such as standardized comments, naming convention for users' names, the use of logos, and rules of etiquette to ensure that only relevant information is being communicated.
  6. The Working Group recognizes that real-time online chat messaging is not always practicable for all broadcasters in all circumstances. This can be the case when a broadcaster is airing a number of live events at once, such as multiple NFL football games airing on different station affiliates in different time zones. Similarly, a BDU may then be implementing simultaneous substitutions for multiple Canadian stations over U.S. stations in multiple time zones. Accordingly, the Working Group is also evaluating other methods of real-time communication and intends to initiate sample tests in the coming weeks.

VI. Next Steps

  1. The Working Group is committed to reducing errors that occur during the simultaneous substitution process. To this end, we have already adopted certain interim processes and tools and will continue to assess the effectiveness of these measures. It is expected that additional measures will be adopted or refined on a going-forward basis. Specifically, since a significant number of live events occur at the start of the new television season in the fall, we will be in a better position at that time to assess these processes and tools, as there will be more live simultaneous substitution opportunities. We will file a second progress report within six months (by March 31, 2016) after we have had an opportunity to make these assessments and test and refine the processes and tools.
  2. The Working Group is also committed to on-going collaboration on technical, operational and regulatory issues and will continue to meet on a regular basis. Furthermore, we intend to explore opportunities to work as an industry to inform and educate Canadian television viewers on the purpose of simultaneous substitution, its process and the efforts of the industry to improve the process. Attached as Appendix B is the Working Group's action plan.
  3. We expect that greater awareness of the Working Group's efforts (e.g. through the publication of this report), will encourage participation by additional broadcasters and BDUs who have yet to join the Working Group. Consequently, the Working Group recommends that the Commission provide and make available the Working Group contact list on its website, as it does for telecom matters via the telecommunications service providers registration lists. Furthermore, given the increased presence of new television service providers in the Canadian market, it is essential that new entrants also learn about the recommended practices and procedures established by the Working Group such that they  have an opportunity to interact and share information as they begin to implement simultaneous substitutions. We note that in the proposed amendments to the exemption order for terrestrial BDUs serving fewer than 20,000 subscribers, the Commission states that it intends to publicize on its website the name and service areas of a BDU that has informed the Commission that it will be commencing the operation of a terrestrial BDU service.Footnote 13  To that end, the Working Group respectfully suggests that a similar listing be published when new licensed BDUs commence operations. In that way, members of the Working Group would know when new BDU services are in operation and can ensure that these BDUs are invited to join the Working Group and be included on the simultaneous substitution distribution list for increased efficiency and cooperation.

Appendix A - Simultaneous Substitution Working Group Member Companies and Organizations

Access Communications Co-op

Bell Canada

Bragg Communications Inc. (Eastlink)

Canadian Cable Systems Alliance (CCSA)

Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC)

Channel Zero

Cogeco Cable

Dougall Media

Hastings Cable Vision

Mediastats Inc.

MTS Inc.

Public Interest Advocacy Centre (PIAC)

Quebecor Media Inc.

Rogers Communications Inc.


Shaw Communications Inc.

TELUS Communications Company

Yes TV

Zoomer Media

Appendix B - The Simultaneous Substitution Working - Group Action Plan (2015-2016)

Activities Measures Timeline Expected Results
1. Meetings Bi-weekly conference calls hosted by Rogers February 24, 2015 - August 26, 2015 Discussions and exchanges between members of the industry, the CRTC and consumer groups to identify the key issues regarding the simultaneous substitution processes and practices. Collective identification of solutions to address issues that emerge from the simultaneous substitution process.
Half-day in-person meeting hosted by Rogers May 12, 2015
Bi-weekly conference calls hosted by Shaw September 9, 2015 – March 23, 2016
2. Implementation of new measures to deal with key simultaneous substitution issues Communication tools   Fulfill the Simultaneous Substitution Working Group mandate:
  • Improve processes and practices in an effort to reduce recurring, substantial simultaneous substitution errors.
a) Description of off-air plans for live events provided to BDUs via email Implemented, June, 2015
b) Live communications during events:
  • Live chat
On-going testing July  -September, 2015 Expected implementation, Fall 2015
Mediastats Process Changes Implemented July, 2015 Expected completion by end of year, 2015.
3. Reports to the CRTC Collectively prepare reports to be submitted to the CRTC Progress Report – August, 2015 Update Report – March, 2016 Submit reports on the work completed by the Simultaneous Substitution Working Group and provide updates on its activities to the CRTC.
4. Raising public awareness Explore opportunities to collaborate as an industry to inform and educate Canadian television viewers on simultaneous substitution. On-going Inform and educate Canadians on the purpose of simultaneous substitution, its processes and the efforts of the industry to improve that process.
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