TSN re an advertisement for the movie Annabelle: Creation

ENGLISH-LANGUAGE PANEL
CBSC Decision 16/17-3725
2018 CBSC 6
March 29, 2018
S. Courtemanche (Chair), C. Bell, V. Dubois, K. Hesketh, S. Sammut

THE FACTS

Annabelle: Creation is a supernatural horror movie released in August 2017.  It is a prequel to the 2014 movie entitled Annabelle and the fourth instalment in The Conjuring series.  The story of the film takes place in 1955 and involves a possessed porcelain doll whose spirit ends up possessing a young girl.

A 30-second advertisement for the theatrical release of the movie aired on TSN on August 10, 2017 during a Canadian Football League (CFL) game.  The advertisement aired at approximately 9:30 pm Eastern time which was 7:30 pm in the Mountain time zone.

The commercial contained clips of scenes from the movie, such as images of a creepy-looking doll, a man shouting “She mustn’t go near that doll!” and a young girl’s wheelchair being pushed by an unseen figure, causing the girl to fall out.  When asked if she is okay, the girl responds in an eerily calm manner, “I’m fine”.  Additional scenes included a girl scratching her fingernails along a wooden floor as she is dragged across it, objects flying around a room, light bulbs breaking, and a nun being lifted off the floor and thrown into a wall by an unseen force.  The tagline for the movie was “Evil finds a new home”.  (A more complete description and transcription of the advertisement can be found in Appendix A.)

A viewer in the Mountain time zone first wrote to the CBSC about this advertisement on July 29 and complained that the commercial was not appropriate during family programming because it “is a VERY dark movie and being based around a doll is particularly horrific to young girls.”  Once the CBSC informed him that it required a specific date and time of broadcast, he wrote back twice.  The first occasion was to inform the CBSC that this had happened before, with an apology from TSN, but this time the station had ignored the issue.  On the second occasion, on August 10, the complainant provided the required broadcast details for the CBSC to pursue the complaint.

TSN responded to the complainant on September 12, informing him that “All advertisements airing on TSN are screened and approved by the Telecaster Services Division of the Television Bureau of Canada.  This voluntary, self-governing organization issues commercial clearance for broadcasters and confirms that all commercials it screens have met CRTC regulations and industry codes, and are suitable for viewing as identified by the approval by Telecaster to the broadcaster.”

In its response, TSN also indicated that it did not “intend to upset our viewers, including our younger fans, by airing this movie advertisement and sincerely regret that you and your family found it offensive.”  TSN added that it would be reviewing its process of how advertisements are selected for broadcast during CFL programming.

The complainant wrote back the same day to both the broadcaster and the CBSC.  He complained that other stations had pulled the commercial after receiving complaints, but TSN had done nothing and was even airing commercials for another horror movie in a similar timeslot.  (The full text of all correspondence can be found in Appendix B.)

THE DECISION

The English-Language Panel examined the complaint under Article 3.3 of the Canadian Association of Broadcasters’ (CAB) Violence Code, which reads as follows:

Advertisements which contain scenes of violence intended for adult audiences, such as those for theatrically presented feature films, shall not be telecast before 9 pm.

The Panel Adjudicators read all of the correspondence and viewed a recording of the challenged broadcast.  The Panel concludes that TSN did not violate Article 3.3 of the CAB Violence Code by airing this advertisement at 7:30 pm Mountain time.

The questions put to the panel were:

Does the “time zone exception” contained in Article 3.0 of the CAB Violence Code apply in the circumstances?

Does the advertisement for Annabelle: Creation aired by TSN breach Article 3.3 of the CAB Violence Code because it contained scenes intended for adult audiences and therefore, should have aired only after 9 pm?

What is the relevance of Telecaster approval to the CBSC decision?

Advertisements and Promotions Across Different Time Zones

Article 3.0 of the CAB Violence Code assesses “programs” on the time zone in which the signal originates.  However, the CBSC has explained that this “time zone exception” does not apply to advertisements and promotions.[1]  Accordingly, for the purposes of this complaint, the Panel considered whether this advertisement, which aired at 7:30 pm in the Mountain time zone, was contrary to Article 3.3 of the code.

The Content of This Advertisement: Is it Intended Exclusively for Adult Audiences?

The CBSC has dealt with several scary or violent advertisements in previous decisions and determined on a case-by-case basis what type of content constitutes “scenes intended for adult audiences” and that which does not.[2]

The factors taken into account in determining whether content is intended for adult audiences are as follows:

  • Is the violence actually shown or merely implied?
  • Is there presence of gore and blood?
  • What is the level of graphic-ness, realism, quantity and duration of the acts?
  • What is the overall tone of the ad or promo?

The Panel carefully examined, sequence by sequence, the advertisement for Annabelle: Creation.  It considers that, although the advertisement can be described as intense and frightening, it does not contain the level of gore or graphic-ness that would make it intended exclusively for adults.  There is no blood seen in any segment and although there is violence implied, such as when an unseen figure pushes the young girl out of her wheelchair, these visual representations do not amount to a clear violation of the code.

Notwithstanding the finding that there was no clear violation of the code, the Panel does consider that the scheduling of this advertisement in a program where family viewing is expected was unfortunate.  The Panel also notes that the broadcaster, in its response, has undertaken to review its process “on how ads of this nature are scheduled into CFL programming.”

The Relevance of Telecaster Approval

In its response, TSN stated that the advertisement had been screened and approved by the Telecaster Services Division of the Television Bureau of Canada, now known as ThinkTV.

ThinkTV is a non-governmental agency established to encourage advertising agencies to buy spots on Canadian television stations.  One of the services offered by ThinkTV under its Telecaster Services is preclearance of television commercials.  Telecaster examines the commercials under its own guidelines and then assigns each commercial a number indicating that it has been reviewed by them.

Telecaster has its own set of guidelines for content and, although it does make reference and aims to be consistent with other regulations, codes and standards governing Canadian television, such clearances or approvals do not necessarily mean that the content meets the standards set out in the codes administered by the CBSC.  The CBSC has explained that it does not take Telecaster approval into consideration when assessing a complaint, in part because the CRTC has not acknowledged Telecaster’s regulatory authority over advertising offered on broadcaster services.[3]

Broadcaster Responsiveness

In all CBSC decisions, the Panels assess the broadcaster’s response to the complainant.  The broadcaster need not agree with the complainant’s position, but it must respond in a courteous, thoughtful and thorough manner.  In this case, TSN has, in its response, satisfied its obligation to respond adequately to the complaint.  The broadcaster fulfilled its obligations of responsiveness and nothing further is required in this regard in this instance.

This decision is a public document upon its release by the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council.

[1] Space :TheImaginationStation re Drive-In Classics Promo (CBSC Decision 01/02-0699, September 13, 2002); Discovery re The Devils Ride promotional spot (CBSC Decision 12/13-1516, October 30, 2013).

[2] TQS re Scheduling of Advertisements and Promos (CBSC Decision 98/99-0212+, June 23, 1999); CKY-TV re Promos for The Sopranos and City Hall (CBSC Decision 00/01-0071, August 20, 2001); CKCK-TV re Promos for The Sopranos and an Advertisement for The Watcher (CBSC Decision 00/01-0058, August 20, 2001); CIII-TV (Global Television) re an advertisement for the movie Seed of Chucky (CBSC Decision 04/05-0567, April 19, 2005); Global re an advertisement for the movie SkinWalkers (CBSC Decision 06/07-1352, November 29, 2007); CTV re a promotional spot for Flashpoint (CBSC Decision 08/09-0668, June 25, 2009); Teletoon Retro re an advertisement for The Night Exchange during Batman:The Animated Series (CBSC Decision 10/11-1669, December 15, 2011); Discovery re The Devils Ride promotional spot (CBSC Decision 12/13-1516, October 30, 2013).

[3] CTV re Maple Leaf Meats Commercial (CBSC Decision 95/96-0200, October 21, 1996); CKCK-TV re an advertisement for “The Wolf” radio station (CBSC Decision 02/03-0609+, December 15, 2003); CIII-TV (Global Television) re an advertisement for the movie Seed of Chucky (CBSC Decision 04/05-0567, April 19, 2005).


Appendix A

Annabelle: Creation is a supernatural horror movie released in August 2017.  It is a prequel to the 2014 movie entitled Annabelle and the fourth instalment in The Conjuring series.  The story takes place in 1955 and involves a possessed porcelain doll whose spirit ends up possessing a young girl.

A 30-second advertisement for the theatrical release of the movie aired on TSN on August 10, 2017 during a Canadian Football League (CFL) game between the Edmonton Eskimos and the Ottawa RedBlacks.  The ad aired at approximately 9:30 pm Eastern which was 7:30 pm in the complainant’s Mountain time zone.

The commercial contained the following scenes:

A girl using crutches walks down a hallway of a house.  There is a close-up of her face and the sound of a door creaking as she opens a door and sees a creepy-looking porcelain doll.

Another girl is sitting in a wicker chair on a porch and says, “We’re worried about Janice.  She found this doll”.

A man sternly says, “She mustn’t go near that doll!”

A blonde girl, Janice, is sitting outside a large farmhouse in a wheelchair, closing her eyes and turning her face up towards the sun.  There is a sinister noise and an unseen force rocks her wheelchair forward.  A person’s hands grasp the back of the wheelchair.  The figure’s face is hidden by the sunlight.  The figure pushes the wheelchair forward as Janice screams.  The wheelchair is inside a shed and the hands push it forward so that Janice falls out.

Words on screen “On August 11” …

A nun asks, “Are you okay?”

Janice turns her head and replies “I’m fine” in an eerily calm manner.

A close-up of the other girl’s concerned face.  The camera goes back to Janice who blinks once, again in an eerily calm manner.

… Word on screen “Evil” …

Janice is sitting at a table in a darkened bedroom that has been set up for a tea party.  The creepy doll is sitting across from her.  The viewer sees Janice from the back, rising from her chair.

Three girls are standing, watching.  One says, “She can walk”.

A girl, with only the whites of her eyes showing, is standing in a room.  Her body tilts backwards in an odd position, into the shadows of the hallway behind her.

The man is clasping a crucifix in front of him and holds his eyes tightly shut.

… Words on screen “Finds a New Home”.

Janice is in her nightgown, standing in a bedroom doorway.  In an eerie voice, she says, “Forgive me, Sister…”  The nun, also in her nightgown, turns to look at her with a scared expression on her face.

A girl scratches her fingernails along a wooden floor as she is presumably dragged across it.

There are quick cuts of:  the play tea set rattling on the table, a wooden object in a girl’s bedroom flying across the room, an explosion inside the house while people look on from outside, close-ups of exterior light bulbs breaking and making sparks.

The nun looks down at her own feet and sees that she is suspended in air.  Janice says, “… for I am about to sin”.  There is a screaming sound and the nun is thrown against the wall by an unseen force.

Words on screen and male voice-over narration:  “Annabelle: Creation, August 11”.

Appendix B

The Complaint

The CBSC received the following complaint from a viewer in Calgary, Alberta via its webform on July 29, 2017:

Subject:         TSN’s broadcast of the CFL Thursday and Friday

During both CFL games on the above days, Thursday, July 27th and Friday, July 28 they showed commercials for an R rated movie.  This is family programming which has children of all ages and as such R rated commercials are not appropriate.  The movie in question is Annabelle: Creation.  This is a VERY dark movie and being based around a doll is particularly horrific to young girls.  I would like this investigated and the appropriate actions taken to ensure this NEVER happens again!

The complainant submitted the same complaint to the Ad Standards webform.  Ad Standards forwarded it to the CBSC on August 11, as per the arrangement between CBSC and Ad Standards for this type of complaint.

The CBSC informed the complainant that it required the approximate time that the advertisement appeared in order to proceed with his complaint.  He wrote back on August 9:

This has happened in all games this last week and half the ones the week before.  I do not have the times on hand nor the games recorded so not sure how I could come up with the time now.  I will make a point of keeping that info noted in the future, though, if this comes up again.  Something like this happened once before but a complaint with the station had it dealt with quickly and an apology issued immediately.  TSN not only has not apologized but has completely ignored the issue and continued with this policy, possibly not only on the CFL games but other shows as well, which I will not watch, but their own scheduling should have evidence of it and the exact time.  I apologize for not being able to give you the times but Thursday, tomorrow, has the Edmonton vs Ottawa game and since Annabelle: Creation comes out on Friday, I expect they will do so again and I will note that time and get back to you again.

He wrote back with the time details on August 10:

As expected, TSN again played Annabelle commercials.  The first one we noticed was at 2 hrs 2 minutes into the game that I believe started recording at 5:30 pm making it about 7:30 pm.  I would expect that all games will continue to do so this weekend as well but this is not appropriate.

On August 24, he wrote again to the CBSC:

Here we are 10 days after your letter to TSN and a month after my original complaint to them.  We are, clearly, not going to get any a response from them.  Time to take this to the next level.

The CBSC wrote to him, explaining that the station had more time to send its response.  He wrote again on September 11:

Here we are just a couple of days short of a full month after your letter to TSN and over 2 months after my original complaint to TSN and STILL no response.  Worse yet they have moved on to show commercials for the rated R horror movie It which specifically targets kids as the victims in the movie and with a clown as the killer!  TSN has not learned anything from the last 2 months, refuse to engage and are compounding the issue!  My kids and nieces/nephews refuse to remain in the same room as long as CFL football is on now.

The CBSC explained that it had granted TSN an extension on filing a response; it was due on September 11 so a response should be provided by the end of the day.  He wrote back later on September 11:

It is now 11:45 pm Mountain Monday, September 11th and still nothing from them.  I suspect they will just keep putting it off in hopes of it going away while they continue showing the next and then the next R rated horror flick.  They have had the entire summer to respond to any of the 3 emails I sent to them or the emails you sent or any of the emails the dozens of friends sent and yet they have not responded to any of us and realistically won’t.  That is why I have reached out to their other advertisers who are equally appalled and upset that this is painting them with the same brush.  Funny how it took 20 hrs to 5 days for all of them to respond and over 2 months later TSN hasn’t, isn’t it?  Interesting that when Global, Bravo and CTV2 all had the same commercials running at inappropriate times they responded within 2 days and pulled the commercials within 2 days after that.  The issue was settled that easy with them but TSN just won’t do anything about it!

Broadcaster Response

TSN responded on September 12:

Thank you for your letter, which we received through the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council (CBSC) on August 14, 2017.

I understand and appreciate your concerns regarding an advertisement for the film Annabelle: Creation, which aired during the CFL on TSN on July 27 and 28.  Please allow me to take this opportunity to address your concerns.

All advertisements airing on TSN are screened and approved by the Telecaster Services Division of the Television Bureau of Canada.  This voluntary, self-governing organization issues commercial clearance for broadcasters and confirms that all commercials it screens have met CRTC regulations and industry codes, and are suitable for viewing as identified by the approval provided by Telecaster to the broadcaster.

After reviewing the matter with our traffic department, we have confirmed that the commercial in question met the approval guidelines set forth by Telecaster and received clearance to appear on-air.  We did not intend to upset our viewers, including our younger fans, by airing this movie advertisement and sincerely regret that you and your family found it offensive.

Although the commercial was cleared for broadcast, we will be reviewing our process on how ads of this nature are scheduled into CFL programming.

I hope this letter clarifies the situation and conveys how seriously we take our programming and broadcast responsibilities.  TSN is a member in good standing of the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council and follows the Council’s guidelines.

Thank you once again for taking the time to write to us with your concerns.

Additional Correspondence

The complainant wrote back to TSN on September 12:

Are you kidding me?  “It isn’t our fault” routine?  Many other stations made the same mistake but CTV2, Global and Bravo all responded within 48 hrs of my letter to them and pulled the commercial within 48 hrs.  I sent TSN 2 letters BEFORE taking this to the next level and you still needed extra time to respond through them?  In total you have had more than 2 months to deal with this and this is your response?  Then you not only didn’t learn your lesson about Annabelle but now are showing It, another rated R horror movie trailer that deliberately targets kids as the killer is a clown and the victims are all KIDS!  My kids, nieces and nephews won’t even stay in the same room if a CFL game comes on anymore.  That means YOU have cost the CFL a generation of viewers and I have informed them thusly.  I have also reached out to your other advertisers that this has reflected badly on them as well.  I am sure you know what this will mean long term but if you choose to play games with your viewers it will hit you and your company in the pocketbook eventually.  You even chose to try and play games with the CBSC and I am sure they track that as well.  I am disappointed with the unprofessional nature of the TSN office staff and will make a note of that in the future while warning everyone I deal with from the PMO to the Military to civilian life not to expect anything but games from you.

Disappointed in my fellow Canadians.

He also filed his Ruling Request on September 12 with the following note:

2 hours after your message this morning they finally did respond and I bcc’d you in my response to their pathetic response.  More than 2 months, commercials for 2 rated R horror movies and the best they can do is “it wasn’t our fault”?  Like I said, 3 other stations responded IMMEDIATELY and have not made the same mistake of showing It in any family programming on their networks.  TSN is… well, “disappointing” is the only term I can come up with for polite conversation.  Thank you for your patience and professionalism during this process and, no offense, I hope we never have cause to talk again professionally.