TV and Radio Advertising Basics

Broadcasters sell air time to advertisers to earn revenue. TV broadcasters depend mainly on advertising revenue, with these exceptions:

Broadcasters don’t have to air commercial messages, public service announcements or advocacy ads. But during an election campaign, broadcasters must follow the policies set out for federal, provincial and municipal elections.

Limits to advertising time

These time limits don’t include: the promotion of Canadian programs, public service announcements, political ads, product placements within a TV program and virtual ads (i.e. they don’t include advertisements superimposed over a program).

Advertising on community-based television and radio

There are also limits on the amount of time that community-based television and radio services can air commercials:

For more information, consult the Policy framework for local and community television (Broadcasting Regulatory Policy CRTC 2016-224) and the Campus and community radio policy (Broadcasting Regulatory Policy CRTC 2010-499).

Content of advertisements

The CRTC doesn’t directly regulate advertising content, except advertising to children and alcohol ads.

Children's advertising

Children's advertising includes:

Broadcasters must adhere to the Broadcast Code for Advertising to Children published by the Canadian Association of Broadcasters in cooperation with Advertising Standards Canada.

In Quebec, commercial advertising aimed at persons younger than 13 is generally prohibited. See the Office de la protection du consommateur.

Ad clearance

Advertising clearance is the process of previewing commercials to make sure they meet applicable standards. Advertising Standards Canada provides the service, but clearance is only mandatory for children’s advertising.

Accessibility

In its Broadcasting Regulatory Policy CRTC 2016-436, the CRTC issued standard requirements for television stations, discretionary services and on-demand services. One of these requirements states that television stations and discretionary services must ensure that advertising, sponsor messages and English- and French-language promotions are closed captioned. The CRTC also expects on-demand services to do the same.

Advertising for specific products

Types of ads

Advertising Material

The Commission clarified its definition of “advertising material” for the purpose of certifying Canadian programs in Information Bulletin CRTC 2017-434, which indicates that infomercials and other types of advertising material are excluded from the certification of Canadian programs. This bulletin also refers to the definitions of “advertising material” and “advertising message” set out in the Discretionary Services Regulations and the Television Broadcasting Regulations, 1987.

Infomercials

A TV infomercial combines entertainment or information with the sale or promotion of goods or services in a program that’s more than 12 minutes long. Broadcasters must clearly inform viewers that infomercials are paid commercial advertising.

On commercial radio stations, an advertisement that’s more than 3 minutes long must be identified as a paid commercial, by clear and prominent announcements, before and after the segments. The announcement must be repeated when the program breaks, and before returning to the program.

Local promotions on US channels

You may see a promotion for a Canadian show on a US TV station. Both US and Canadian stations set aside some advertising time (1 to 2 minutes per hour) for “local availabilities.” Distributors use this time for their own purposes, and Canadian distributors air promotions for Canadian broadcasting services.

Virtual ads during TV sports programs

Virtual advertising places advertising within a TV program, not during a normal commercial break. Virtual ads are often used for large sports events.

You may see a computer graphic of an advertiser’s name in the scene, or you could see a computer-created "virtual" billboard for TV audiences in a place where a real billboard might appear.

Sponsorships and contra advertising

A sponsorship is when a community program acknowledges that it has received direct financial assistance. Contra advertising is when a community program acknowledges that it has received free goods or services to use in connection with producing the program.

False and misleading ads

Broadcasters must meet the Canadian Association of Broadcasters’ Code of Ethics on advertising. If you think an ad is false or misleading, contact Advertising Standards Canada or the Competition Bureau at Industry Canada.

Questions and complaints

If you have a question or complaint about advertising, go to How to make a broadcasting complaint.

Related information

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