Super Bowl ads take virtual leap in Canada

There is a beautiful blue moon over Pro Player Stadium in Miami on Sunday night.

At least, I think there was.

I watched the Super Bowl in Canada. That's nothing out of the ordinary - millions of Canadians watch the game. (Although if you ask them, they'll tell you the Grey Cup - Canada's Super Bowl - is usually a better game.) The one thing we don't get are those much-hyped, multimillion dollar commercials, which are replaced by Canadian ads.

This year, however, the tables were turned. We got to see a new variety of ads that no one in the United States saw. Thanks to an agreement between the NFL and Global TV - the Canadian broadcaster of the game - Global was able to place virtual ads all over Super Bowl Sunday.

It was hideous.

Virtual ads, you will remember, are ads that are dropped into the action during a sports contest, but can be seen only by the viewer at home. Generated by computers, the ads are so "realistic" that a player can seem to walk right in front of one without disrupting it.

This year, the NFL decided to allow Global to experiment with the ads because (it hurts me to say this) nobody really cares what happens in Canada. If a few Canucks (like me) get upset, well, then no real harm done.

Fortunately, I wasn't the only one upset with these ads.

"Though some of Global's virtual ads were discreet and barely indistinguishable from real billboards at Miami's Pro Player Stadium, many were downright ugly and more than a little intrusive," wrote Toronto Star sports columnist Chris Zelkovich on Monday. "The worst was a massive ad that covered one entire section of the stands. If this is the future of TV sports, we're all doomed."

One of the other ads featured the Global TV blimp - except Global doesn't own a blimp. It was smoke and digital mirrors. Who knows what other features were subtly "dropped" onto the screen without our knowledge?

Not to mention those people who paid to place real ads around the stadium, only to have them "virtualized" by their digital cousins. That may not be a big deal in Canada, but it will become a big deal when it happens in the US.

Meanwhile, for those of you who are thinking it's just sports, I've got some news. It's not just sports. Monday morning on CBC Radio, a specialist in virtual ads was talking about where we might see them appear next.

Look for them to start appearing in movies on TV. The example given was "When Harry Met Sally." Next time you see the famous scene in the diner, don't be surprised if you notice a popular soda on the table that you don't remember being there before. Or maybe it will turn up on the piano when Sam plays it again for Bogart in "Casablanca."

Soon, we will have virtual TV news sets. That way, your favorite anchor can appear to be coming to you from Cuba, when really she will be in the studio in New York.

So now you see why I wasn't so sure about that beautiful blue moon. If things keep heading in this virtual direction, maybe the networks can bring us a blue moon every month, instead of once in a blue moon.

* Tom Regan is the associate editor of The Christian

Science Monitor's Electronic Edition. You can e-mail him at tom@csmonitor.com

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