While Sunday night's Super Bowl featured a historic comeback, the game achieved an average audience of 4.47 million across Bell Media's networks CTV, CTV Two and TSN, a 39 percent drop from the 7.22 million viewers who watched the game on CTV alone in 2016.
Bell blames the decline due to the implementation of the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications policy which disallowed Bell Media from simultaneously substituting Canadian ads over the US broadcast and resulted in an unknown amount of Canadians switching over to Fox's broadcast of the event to view the game with US commercials.
"It's the outcome we predicted despite our efforts to mitigate the audience loss, and the support of the Canadian companies that stepped up to advertise on the domestic broadcast," said Bell Media spokesman and vice-president of communications Scott Henderson.
In 2015, the CRTC ruled Bell Media couldn't simultaneously substitute ads for the Super Bowl, starting in 2017, even while the practice of 'simsubbing' accounts for about $250 million in annual revenue for Canadian broadcasters.
The policy has been met with great push back from Bell Media and the NFL, and even drew sharp criticism from politicians in the US. In November, Florida Senator Marco Rubio and Wisconsin Senator Ron Johnson sent a letter to Canada's Ambassador to the US David MacNaughton requesting the Canadian government reverse the ruling.
While Bell Media saw a sharp audience decline as a clear result of the CRTC's new policy, the ratings were also slightly down in the US and suggests Bell may have avoided a complete catastrophe.
The Fox broadcast had an average viewership of 111.3 million, the lowest ratings for the Super Bowl since 2013. The nature of the game likely impacted those numbers as the Atlanta Falcons had a commanding 28-3 lead over New England in the third quarter. The ratings peaked to 117.7 million in the US, as the Patriots tied the game and sent it into overtime before completing the improbable comeback.
The NFL ratings decline has been a prominent story over the course of the 2016 season, as the league's audience shrunk by nine percent throughout the regular season and another six percent through the playoffs leading up to Sunday's classic.
Bell Media likely would've seen a greater loss of ratings and more viewers switch over to the Fox broadcast if the entire game had been more competitive and achieved an average audience similar to the past few Super Bowls.