Advertising, Connected TV

Linear TV Advertising: What Is It and How Does It Work?

We take on our classic cousin, Linear TV, and see how it stacks up against Performance TV.

Linear TV Advertising: What Is It and How Does It Work?

9 Min Read

In the ever-evolving landscape of media consumption, Linear TV Advertising stands as a testament to the enduring power of traditional television marketing. Despite the rise of digital platforms, linear TV ads continue to be a vital strategy for brands aiming to reach a wide audience through scheduled programming on satellite or cable networks.

But what is linear TV and how does it work? In this article, we’ll explore linear TV’s unique positioning in the marketing mix, its mechanisms for targeting audiences during peak viewing times, and its relevance in an age where streaming services are taking over.

What Is Linear TV?

Linear TV is the traditional form of television, which is programmed and watched as scheduled through satellite or cable and is not streamed to a specific user on demand. It generally caters to prime-time viewing, which is when most people are in front of their screens.

What Is Linear TV Advertising?

Linear TV advertising refers to the commercials that are broadcast across scheduled television programming via satellite or cable networks. These ads are placed within specific time slots, targeting audiences tuned into shows, news, or events at predetermined times.

Unlike digital advertising, linear TV ads reach a broad audience simultaneously, capitalizing on high viewership periods to maximize exposure and impact.

Linear TV vs OTT vs Connected TV

The distinctions between Linear TV, OTT (Over-The-Top), and Connected TV (CTV) highlight the evolving landscape of television consumption and advertising. So many new terms to remember, but here’s a simplified breakdown of the differences between them:

  • OTT (Over-The-Top): OTT refers to the method in which TV content is accessed via the Internet, bypassing traditional broadcast, cable, or satellite platforms. OTT advertising offers marketers the flexibility to reach audiences as they stream their favorite shows on various devices, providing advanced targeting options and the ability to serve personalized ads based on viewer data.
  • Connected TV (CTV): While often used interchangeably with OTT, CTV specifically refers to the consumption of internet-streamed content on a television set, through devices like smart TVs or devices connected to TVs (e.g., streaming sticks or boxes). This form of streaming TV advertising combines the high engagement of traditional TV viewing with the precision targeting and analytics of digital advertising. In other words, it’s the best of both worlds.

While Linear TV relies on scheduled programming with broad audience reach, OTT and CTV deliver content directly over the Internet, offering advertisers detailed targeting, tracking, and analytics capabilities. The terms OTT and CTV are closely related but differ slightly in context, with CTV emphasizing the device through which the content is consumed, whereas OTT refers to the method of content delivery.

How Does Linear TV Advertising Work?

Prerecorded programming, hosted on a server, streams through linear TV on a set schedule. Software is used to determine both the timeslots for the shows, as well as the accompanying advertisements that go along with it.

The obvious exception here would be for live events, where raw footage is received, edited in near real-time, and sent to viewers, often on a very slight time delay.

However, for an advertiser, here’s how the process works:

  • Ad Placement Planning: Advertisers select specific time slots and programs that align with their target audience’s viewing habits, aiming for maximum exposure during peak hours such as prime time.
  • Audience Targeting: Using demographic data, such as age, gender, and interests, advertisers choose programs that are most likely to be watched by their target demographic to ensure their message reaches the right viewers.
  • Creative Development: A commercial is produced, featuring engaging content designed to capture the attention of viewers and convey the advertiser’s message effectively within a short time frame.
  • Media Buying: Advertisers purchase ad slots from TV networks, paying for placements based on the expected audience size and the commercial’s length. Rates vary significantly based on the program’s popularity and the time slot’s demand.
  • Broadcasting the Ad: The commercial is aired during the selected programs and time slots, reaching viewers watching the show live on their television sets.
  • Performance Measurement: Advertisers track the performance of their TV ads through various metrics, such as reach and audience engagement, often using surveys and third-party data analysis to gauge the campaign’s impact.

For advertisers, getting your ads on linear TV can feel a bit intimidating. The easiest way is by working directly with an advertising agency that specializes in negotiating deals with cable companies. The entire process is beyond the scope of this particular post, so if you want the ins and outs, check out this piece on cable TV advertising.

Benefits Of Linear TV Advertising

On-demand streaming on CTV platforms is quickly pulling ad revenue away from linear TV advertisers, but there is still a future for linear. Here are a few notable benefits of linear TV advertising.

Advertise During Live Events

For now, linear television is still a viable option for reaching audiences during live TV programming. Whether it’s a sporting event like the Super Bowl, news broadcasts, morning shows, or shows that involve live audience voting, there is still demand for linear TV programming.

Reach Older Demographics

In addition to its live TV appeal, linear TV ads are still the most effective way to reach the largest number of baby boomers. Around 38% of individuals aged 55 and older spend more time watching linear TV content on cable than on any other platform. Compare this to Gen Xers at 21%, millennials at 16%, and Gen Z adults at 9%, and it’s clear that linear TV still has a place for advertisers trying to reach older audiences.

Segment by Air Time or Channel

Although advanced audience targeting options are limited on linear TV, compared to CTV/OTT platforms (more on this in a moment), linear TV still allows you to target viewers by channel, or air time. This is particularly useful if you know that your best customers are most likely to watch a certain show at a certain time.

Disadvantages of Linear TV Advertising

Here are some of the main challenges and limitations of Linear TV advertising

  • Lack of Measurement: Unlike digital platforms, linear TV offers limited capabilities for tracking and measuring ad performance. Advertisers often struggle to obtain real-time data or detailed insights into how their audience engages with their ads, making it challenging to assess ROI accurately.
  • Ad Skippers: With the advent of DVRs and the habit of fast-forwarding through commercials, the effectiveness of linear TV ads has diminished. Viewers increasingly skip ads, reducing the exposure and impact of campaigns designed for broad audiences.
  • Shrinking Viewership: As more people shift towards streaming platforms for their entertainment needs, the viewership for linear TV has been steadily declining. This trend indicates a shrinking audience base for advertisers to reach through traditional TV advertising methods.
  • Older Demographics: Linear TV tends to attract an older demographic, while younger viewers, who are often the target for many brands, are migrating to online and on-demand viewing options. This demographic shift poses a challenge for advertisers looking to engage with a younger, more digitally savvy audience.
  • High Costs with Lower Flexibility: The cost of advertising on linear TV is typically high, especially for prime time slots, without the guarantee of reaching the intended audience. Additionally, once a TV ad campaign is launched, it offers less flexibility to make adjustments based on performance or viewer feedback compared to digital campaigns.

Benefits of MNTN Performance TV

When you look at the combination of rising Linear TV production and increased advertising rates, a distracted audience, and an inability to measure results – it’s no wonder viewers and advertisers alike are cutting the cord in favor of Connected TV (CTV).

Fast becoming the future of  TV as we know it, Connected TV can be accessed across multiple platforms including smart TV, mobile, or OTT devices (think Chromecast, Xbox, and Amazon Fire Stick).

Here’s why Connected TV, or Performance TV  as we like to call it, is the one to watch:

  • Performance TV as a Performance Channel: Think of Performance TV as a digital marketing channel like you would your other platforms, where analytics can be quickly drawn and measured. Unlike Linear TV, performance can be tracked down to the minutiae and covers everything from ROAS calculation, CPCV, site visits through to conversions and more – key metrics that many advertisers look to gauge the effectiveness of their campaigns and measure customer lifetime value. One key advantage is the targeting capabilities of our platform, which goes above and beyond what Linear TV ads can do. We’ve partnered with Oracle Data Cloud, to provide third-party data, so you can directly target viewers in your target audience, no matter what they are watching. Our reporting interface is a powerhouse that allows you to easily customize reports across a multitude of metrics and KPIs at any stage of your campaign. And not only that, Performance TV is fully compatible with Google Analytics, so you can track and measure your performance alongside the rest of your marketing campaigns.
  • Non-Skippable, 15 to 30-Second HD Ads:  Unlike Linear TV – and other forms of digital advertising, like video ads) – CTV ads are non-skippable and can be easily loaded up onto our user interface in a matter of clicks, and launched within the same platform. Linear TV advertising spots are usually operated by a media buyer, however, we’ve eliminated that step to put the power back in your hands. 
  • A Triple Threat Trio: MNTN not only allows advertisers to build and launch their Performance TV campaign on a single platform but provides a full ad immersion experience through retargeting this audience with ads across other devices, such as mobile and laptops. This, combined with Living Room Quality ads across a premium network inventory including CNN, ESPN, and Food Network, among 150+ others – makes it a force to be reckoned with. 

Will Linear TV Go Away?

While Linear TV viewing still holds some form of nostalgia, especially with a mature audience, changes in consumption habits have affected the way marketers view Linear TV as an advertising tool – in fact, according to media consultancy Ebiquity, Linear TV will see an estimated 21% fall in commercial impact by 2025.

So, will it go away? Not any time soon, but its impact is diminishing over time.

Linear TV Advertising: Final Thoughts

While Linear TV advertising remains a powerful medium for reaching broad audiences through scheduled programming, the evolution of television consumption habits points to a clear trend towards digital, internet-based platforms.

Connected TV (CTV) advertising emerges as the definitive winner in this shifting landscape, offering advertisers the granularity of digital targeting with the immersive experience of traditional TV.