Advertising, Connected TV

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

We take on our classic cousin, the OG of boxes, in the ultimate showdown

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

8 Min Read

If you’ve been following our battle series closely (comparing Performance TV to other video advertising mediums), you’ll notice one thing in common: Performance TV is the winning contender, on every level – from both a branding and performance perspective. But how does it stack up against linear television?

Today, we’ll take a walk down memory lane as we compare one of the legacy forms of advertising – Linear TV vs. Connected TV (Performance TV).

What Is Linear TV Advertising?

Linear TV is defined as the traditional form of TV, 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.

Why Is It Called Linear TV?

To further clarify, the term “linear” in this phrase simply refers to the method by which television programs and content are consumed. Rather than on-demand viewing (as is the case with modern streaming services), linear TV programming is viewed according to a predetermined/scheduled lineup of shows.

Is Linear TV Dead?

While Linear TV viewing still holds some form of nostalgia, especially with a mature audience (more on that later), changes in consumer’s 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.

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.

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.

Linear TV vs. OTT

What is the difference between linear TV and OTT? OTT stands for “over-the-top,” and refers to the viewing of TV content via an internet connection rather than on a linear schedule. So OTT advertising, in essence, is the act of displaying ads and marketing material to this internet-connected audience as they stream their favorite shows.

This means that advertisers have a lot more freedom and targeting options with streaming TV advertising platforms compared to the rigid structure and limited options of linear TV advertising.

Linear TV vs. Connected TV

What is the difference between linear TV and connected TV? Well, you already know the answer! Connected TV (CTV) and over-the-top (OTT) are essentially the same thing. The terms are used interchangeably in the industry, so don’t be confused.

For the full breakdown, you can read our post about OTT vs. CTV.

The Problem With Traditional TV Advertising

Here are some of the main challenges with Linear TV advertising

  • Lack of Measurement: From an advertiser’s perspective, measurement is probably the biggest drawback to advertising on Linear TV. There is no guarantee that commercials will be viewed, and any insights into viewership location are restricted.  Advertisers can only target according to ratings and time of day, instead of audience segments. Targeting is one thing, but measuring conversions is another – how can you accurately track if a viewer visits your website after watching Linear TV ads? You can’t.
  • Ad Skippers: A study by Deloitte found that a whopping 86% of viewers skip Linear TV commercials, or are distracted by other activities like channel surfing or viewing their other devices. Given TV advertising comes with additional costs –  such as producing the commercial – it is important to know that their ads are being viewed in their entirety. According to eMarketer, It looks like the average cost per minute for US primetime TV ads is going up by an estimated 13.2% to $36.19 from 2019-2020, with CPMs increasing on Linear TV by at least 8.0% per year. 
  • Shrinking Viewership: Overall, Linear TV viewership is declining in popularity, as viewers shift to Connected TV. A study by Nielsen showed that younger generations are watching considerably less Linear television than their older counterparts. Viewing among 35-49-year-olds fell by 6.1% year-over-year, traditional TV viewing among 50-64-year-olds declined by smaller 2.4% year-over-year, and the amount of time 18-34-year-olds as a whole spent watching traditional TV (live and time-shifted) in Q3 2018 dropped by about 17.2% from the previous year. That’s a drop of about 1 in every 6 minutes in just a single year. Linear TV viewing in the over 65+ demographic, however, was down by just 1 minute – in line with industry predictions that this demographic are most likely to hold onto this type of viewing versus younger generations. Oh, and TV commercials are getting longer as a result to overcompensate for the declining viewership – combined with the skippable-ad issue, is a cause for concern.  As such, brands and advertisers looking to reach several segments may find this a risky investment.

Benefits of Connected TV Advertising

When you look at the combination of rising Linear TV production and increased advertising rates, a distracted audience, and 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). It is estimated that the number of Connected TV users will rise to over 204 million by 2022, roughly 60% of the population, a ripe opportunity for advertisers.

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 completely 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. 

Linear TV Advertising: Final Thoughts

It is no surprise that Performance TV is the clear winner when compared to Linear television. Who’s next in the ring to square up against CTV? Watch this space as we announce our next battle next week.