What’s Linear TV? Is it Still Relevant to Advertisers in 2024?

By Tinuiti Team

In the ever-evolving world of media and entertainment, the term “linear TV” may sound like a recent addition to our vocabulary, but the concept has actually been around a lot longer than you might think. In fact, each time you turn on the TV to watch your broadcast show of choice, you’re watching linear TV. While streaming TV has soared in popularity during recent years, it’s important to keep in mind that linear still has its place in the market. 

As we delve into the intricacies of linear TV and assess its relevance in 2024, it’s crucial to understand its roots, the mechanics of linear TV ads, the benefits and the challenges it faces in the wake of the growing popularity of internet-connected alternatives. In this post we’ll cover all that and more including what linear TV is, the pros of advertising on Linear TV, and the cons of this type of advertising. Let’s dive into all things linear.

What is Linear TV?

Linear TV, often synonymous with traditional or broadcast television, is a method of delivering television content in a scheduled, linear fashion. Unlike on-demand services that provide viewers with the flexibility to choose what and when to watch, linear TV follows a predetermined schedule. In simpler terms, everyone tuning in watches the same content at the same time, creating a shared viewing experience.

The term “linear” in Linear TV refers to the nature of content delivery. Programs are broadcast in a linear fashion, as noted above, adhering to a set schedule. This differs with non-linear models like streaming services, where viewers have the freedom to choose the timing and content they wish to consume.

Linear TV vs. CTV and OTT

As technology continues to reshape the way we consume content, terms like CTV (Connected TV), and OTT (Over-the-Top) have become integral parts of the media lexicon. Let’s explore the key differences between Linear TV and the dynamic duo of CTV and OTT, taking a look at their distinct characteristics.

What is OTT?

Over the Top (OTT) advertising is a content delivery method that involves the direct transmission of TV shows and associated ads over the internet through streaming video services or devices. This model allows viewers to access on-demand content, breaking away from the traditional linear schedule.

Unlike Linear TV, which relies on cable or satellite infrastructure, OTT services deliver content directly to viewers over the internet, offering flexibility in terms of when and where content is consumed. OTT platforms excel in providing on-demand content, allowing users to choose what they want to watch and when they want to watch it.

Services like Sling TV showcase that OTT and Linear TV are not mutually exclusive. While Sling TV utilizes linear content scheduling, it delivers that content over the internet, blending aspects of both models.

What is CTV?

CTV, or Connected TV, refers to televisions that are connected to the internet, whether through built-in smart TV features or external devices like Roku. CTV is a classification based on the type of television. Smart TVs and traditional TVs equipped with devices like Roku fall under the CTV umbrella. CTV and traditional linear TV are not mutually exclusive. A TV with a cable subscription and a connected device like Roku can seamlessly support both traditional and internet-delivered content.

While Linear TV operates on a more traditional, schedule-based model, both CTV and OTT leverage the internet for content delivery. This opens the door to highly targeted advertising campaigns due to the granular data available. Internet-based content delivery, characteristic of both CTV and OTT, enables advertisers to leverage granular data, tailoring campaigns to specific demographics and user preferences.

Unlike linear advertising, which follows a set schedule, CTV and OTT allow for more flexibility in ad placement, optimizing viewer engagement. It’s important to note that Linear TV, CTV, and OTT each bring unique strengths to the table. But with all that said, linear TV still has its benefits – let’s hone in on some of the pros of linear TV advertising.

Benefits of Linear TV Advertising

Linear TV advertising offers a variety of benefits that cater to diverse marketing needs. Let’s take a look at a few of the pros to this type of advertising.

Non-Skippable Ads

Linear TV ads are designed to captivate audiences, with durations typically ranging from 30 to 60 seconds. Unlike some digital platforms where ads can be skipped, the non-skippable nature of linear TV ensures that viewers engage with the content, providing advertisers with a guaranteed viewership.

Household Reach

One of the major strengths of linear TV lies in its ability to reach multiple individuals within a household. As linear TV overwhelmingly targets television sets, advertisers have a higher probability of delivering their message to a diverse audience under one roof, making it an efficient medium for household-focused campaigns.

Diversification in Marketing Mix

Linear TV can be a helpful tool when diversifying your marketing mix. Certain demographics, especially seniors, gravitate towards linear TV compared to internet-connected devices. This preference creates an opportunity for advertisers to tap into audiences that may be underserved by digital channels.

Brand Safety and Trustworthiness

The highly regulated nature of linear TV contributes to a brand-safe environment. Advertisers benefit from a controlled and trustworthy space for their messaging, as linear TV ads are perceived by viewers as more reliable compared to digitally delivered ads. This trust can enhance brand credibility and positively impact consumer perception.

Hosts of Major Live Events

While digital platforms are gaining traction for live events, such as Twitch and ESPN hosting live sports, linear TV remains the preferred host for many major events. Whether it’s breaking news, the excitement of the Super Bowl, or the thrill of prime-time programming, linear TV stands as the go-to destination for communal viewing experiences.

Targeting Options for Cable/Satellite Buys

For advertisers seeking precision in targeting, cable and satellite linear TV buys offer a range of options. Advertisers can strategically target based on specific channels, TV programs, and airtime, providing a comprehensive approach to reaching a broad yet specific audience. This level of targeting allows for a nuanced and effective campaign strategy.

The benefits of linear TV advertising are multifaceted, offering a combination of guaranteed viewership, household reach, regulatory safety, trustworthiness, and the ability to tap into diverse audiences. As advertisers navigate the complex landscape of media consumption, linear TV provides a unique set of advantages that contribute to a well-rounded marketing strategy.

Challenges of Linear TV Advertising

As with any type of advertising, linear TV advertising can also present marketers with a set of challenges. Let’s dive into a few common challenges linear TV advertisers might encounter.

Fragmentation of TV Landscape

The surge in popularity of OTT, CTV, and similar alternatives has contributed to the fragmentation of the TV landscape. The increasing trend of cord-cutting is reshaping viewer habits, posing a challenge for advertisers to maintain a consolidated reach.

Limited Precision in Targeting

Unlike internet-connected TV, the typical linear TV buy often falls short in terms of precise targeting. There are some agencies that do allow you to buy highly targeted linear TV space, but only a small percentage of linear TV buys occur in this way. This limitation can hinder advertisers from efficiently reaching specific audiences with their campaigns.

Measurement Difficulties

Measuring the impact of linear TV ads can be a challenge. While some agencies can provide insights, it’s not commonplace to obtain detailed information on who viewed commercials and their post-viewing actions. 

Luckily, at Tinuiti, our patented solution, Bliss Point, applies modern machine learning and optimization techniques to non-click-based media. That’s a fancy way of saying we can statistically prove whether your Streaming and Linear TV buys are working, and we can show their incremental marketing impact relative to other channels.

Unskippable Ads

While the non-skippable nature of linear TV ads ensures engagement, viewers often take advantage of these moments to do other activities, lessening the effectiveness of the ad experience. The challenge lies in maintaining viewer attention and maximizing the impact of the ad during these unskippable moments.

Comparisons with CTV

The absence of certain challenges on CTV platforms raises questions about the future of linear TV. As viewers increasingly turn to CTV for its targeted capabilities, some wonder if linear TV is destined to follow the path of outdated technologies like landline phones.

In confronting these challenges, advertisers in the linear TV space must continually adapt their strategies to align with the shifting dynamics of viewer behavior and emerging technologies. The future of linear TV advertising hinges on its ability to address these hurdles and offer a compelling narrative in a world marked by increasing digitalization and evolving viewer preferences.

Is Linear TV Still Relevant?

In the midst of the digital revolution and the surging popularity of streaming services, the relevance of linear TV remains steady. While digital and streaming platforms are experiencing vast growth, linear TV continues to hold a pivotal role in the media mix for a variety of brands. Its appeal lies in its ability to reach audiences that have not fully embraced streaming TV, offering a unique opportunity for advertisers to connect with demographics that might be underserved by purely digital channels. 

It’s crucial to remember that it doesn’t have to be either-or. In many cases, the best strategy involves some level of investment in both linear and CTV. Recognizing the strengths of each platform and their distinct audience demographics allows brands to craft a comprehensive and diversified media mix, ensuring a broader reach and maximizing the impact of their advertising efforts. As the media landscape continues to evolve, striking a balance between linear TV and digital alternatives capitalizes on the strengths of both traditional and modern viewing platforms.

Looking for more information on linear media, or interested in incorporating streaming ads into your strategy in the coming year? At Tinuiti, we have a team of experts that can get you started. Check out our Streaming+ services (which can also help you with targeted linear TV buys!) here or contact us today for more information.

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