Linear TV refers to our traditional TV viewing and broadcasting, a content distribution system where the content is broadcasted 24/7 in a set schedule only on its original channel. For example, if a certain show is scheduled for 8 PM on channel A, then the viewer must tune in to this specific channel specifically at 8 PM. Alternatively, the viewer can record it on a DVR and watch it later, but the fact remains that this content is tied to a specific schedule.
In the past, linear TV used to be our only television viewing option for decades, but the advancements in technology especially in bandwidth internet have provided us more freedom in consuming content, including television content. Hence, now we have what we call on-demand TV and OTT TV.
First, let us discuss key terminologies in linear TV and digital TV experience as a whole.
Digital TV Broadcasts: Key Terminologies
In recent years, on-demand TV or video-on-demand (VOD) has been on the rise, while you might also have heard other terms like advanced TV (ATV), connected TV (CTV), and over-the-top (OTT), among others. Here, let us define all of them in order to better understand the concept of linear TV.
OTT refers to any content distribution method that utilizes the internet as a medium. So, OTT is not only limited to on-demand TVs like YouTube or Netflix but when we send a WhatsApp message or iMessage, it is also considered OTT content.
It’s important to note that OTT refers to the distribution method, rather than the consumption method, which we will discuss below.
Advanced TV is actually an umbrella term used to describe all forms of TV broadcasts that are considered non-traditional (besides cable TV and satellite linear TV). All the terms we will discuss below can be considered a part of advanced TV.
On-demand TV or video-on-demand (VOD)
On-demand is a type of TV consumption model (not to be misunderstood as OTT which is a distribution model). In an on-demand model, as opposed to linear TV, the viewer can choose any content without being tied to any schedule: they can choose to watch the content anytime and on any devices, and can also pause, fast-forward, or rewind the video.
YouTube and Netflix are among the most popular platforms using the on-demand model.
Connected TV (CTV)
Also called smart TV, CTV refers to any TV station that can connect to the internet, and so this device can allow the consumption of OTT content without needing cable TV or satellite TV subscription.
Online Linear TV
Finally, online linear TV is a traditional 24/7 TV broadcast (can be live-streamed or pre-recorded) that is delivered as OTT content. The thing is, with how on-demand TV provides more versatility, is online linear TV broadcasts still necessary? We will discuss more of this below.
Is Linear TV Still Needed?
The short answer is, yes. Contrary to a popular misconception, linear TV is still a pretty significant viewing habit. While it’s no longer a secret that linear TV is declining in favor of on-demand TV, there are several reasons why it is still a relevant, if not important medium:
Major Events Demand Real-Time Streaming
Even at this age of Netflix, Hulu, HBO GO, and other VOD platforms, there are at least four major TV events that people still prefer to watch as soon as they are airing:
High-Profile/Popular TV Shows and Direct-to-TV Movies
Although more and more popular TV shows are now available to watch on various VOD platforms, there are shows that are only available on specific linear TV channels like CBS or ABC.
This one is fairly obvious. Super Bowl is still one of the most-watched events in the world, as well as the World Cup final, NBA finals, high-profile boxing/UFC matches, and other sports events.
People still watch live TV for news, especially when there are major events happening.
Events like the Academy Awards, Grammy Awards, and so on, still attract live viewers.
We can expect these four types of content to keep linear TV around for at least some time in the near future.
Older people Still Prefer Linear TV
While it’s no secret that younger people (Millennials and Gen Zs) no longer watch TV, older people aged 35-65+ still watch quite a lot of linear TV every day. Many of them simply don’t want to learn watching content on new platforms like Netflix, and many others are simply stuck to old habits.
The thing is, these older adults are great market prospects with a lot of buying power. So, many TV advertisers are still keen to target this audience. As long as there are advertising demands on linear TV, it is here to stay.
Turns out having too many options isn’t always a great thing for all of us. Many people are now realizing that the massive amount of content selection they have in Netflix, YouTube, Amazon Prime, and various other platforms can be counterproductive, and more people are now seeking the more passive experience of traditional linear TV.
Realizing this phenomenon, many popular platforms like Amazon are now considering bringing linear TV in combination with their existing VOD platform, creating a hybrid approach. There are also platforms like Plex TV that are launching free, ad-supported linear TV channels
We can expect this trend to continue in 2020 and onwards
The introduction of programmatic advertising in linear TV platforms now allows advertisers to display their advertisements only to highly targeted audiences based on segmentation. For example, different households might get totally different ads based on their specific interests and demographics data. Technologies like ATSC 3.0 and HbbTV also allow better data collection from customers to further improve this targeted programmatic advertising.
With this, linear TV can be a more lucrative opportunity for content providers that are looking to monetize their content.
Linear TV is simply here to stay, and online linear TV is expected to grow bigger in 2021 and onwards, with more people staying at home and adopting/learning about OTT platforms throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. Also, it is now easier than ever to create your own TV channel with Viloud, and you can even create a hybrid on-demand/linear channel with relative ease.
New technologies in programmatic advertising also allow a better, more effective, and targeted way to monetize your content in a linear TV model, and is expected to drive the growth of online linear TV channels in the years to come.