What is Linear TV?

Linear TV is the traditional form of television viewing that follows a continuous, scheduled programming set by broadcasters. “During an interview on CNBC’s Squawk Box on Thursday, [Disney's Bob] Iger said the company would be “expansive” in its thinking around linear TV and that several strategic options were being explored.”[^1^] This reflects how media companies are still considering the role of linear TV within their broader content strategy.

What is Linear TV Advertising?

Linear TV advertising is the practice of airing commercials during the breaks of specific shows or time slots. This allows advertisers to target a broad demographic likely to be tuning into a particular program. It's a time-tested model, but the emergence of digital platforms has compelled a reevaluation of its effectiveness and reach.

Is it the Same as Broadcast?

While all linear TV is broadcast, not all broadcast TV is linear. Broadcast refers to the wider transmission of content, which could be either scheduled (linear) or on-demand (non-linear). The evolution of technology has diversified how content is delivered and consumed, leading to new classifications within the broadcast realm.

What are the Big Changes to the Model from 2000 to 2020?

The turn of the millennium marked a significant era for linear TV, with many popular shows attracting large audiences and advertising dollars. But the model started shifting with the advent of digital technologies. DVRs enabled time-shifted viewing, and VOD services offered access to extensive libraries of content.

Then came the streaming revolution, led by platforms like Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, and Hulu. These services reshaped the landscape, offering ad-free, on-demand content for a monthly fee. This sparked the “cord-cutting” phenomenon, where viewers dropped traditional cable subscriptions for these digital alternatives.

For advertisers, this was a double-edged sword. While the linear TV audience shrunk, digital platforms offered novel ways to deliver targeted ads. Plus, the emergence of advanced data analytics transformed ad effectiveness measurement, moving from Nielsen ratings to real-time metrics.

However, not all media companies are shifting away from linear TV. “After years of preparing to go all-in on streaming, linear is no longer a corporate priority for Hollywood giants. But at least a handful of companies are bucking the trend and leaning into linear TV.”[^2^] This contrarian approach indicates a belief in the enduring value of linear TV in an increasingly digital world.

Moreover, as media companies aggressively push into the subscription video-on-demand space, they are “actively making their linear channels less valuable, by taking some of their best entertainment fare and making it exclusive to their streaming services.”[^2^] This strategic move is a clear indicator of the rapidly evolving media landscape and the new challenges and opportunities it presents to both content providers and advertisers.

In summary, linear TV and its advertising model have undergone seismic shifts over the past two decades. Although the landscape has radically changed, the future of linear TV might be more of a transformation than a total replacement.

[^1^]: Source: The Wrap – Disney Bob Iger Linear TV
[^2^]: Source: Hollywood Reporter – Streaming Linear TV Upfronts 2022