What is Linear TV Advertising and Why Does it Matter?


What is Linear TV? 

Linear TV refers to all traditional broadcast TV, including cable and satellite, and is how people have watched TV for decades. It’s called “linear” because content follows a predetermined programming schedule, unlike on-demand content which the individual viewer decides to watch based on their own preferences and schedule.  


Who watches Linear TV?  

Nearly everyone in the US watches TV to some extent. In one day, TV is watched by 70% of the U.S. population. In one week, that number jumps to 90% and is nearly 100% when looking at a full month.  

Linear TV viewers are weighted towards older audiences. 84% of Linear TV viewers are 35 or older, and the average age of a regular Linear TV viewer is 55. Something for brands to keep in mind though, when thinking about Linear TV viewership, is that these older audiences are also the most affluent groups. Those over 50 years old account for more than 50% of all US consumer spending.  

Plus, live TV events still draw audiences of all ages and at sizes unmatched by any other marketing channel. 2022’s Oscars ceremony was watched by 16.6 million people. The same year’s Super Bowl boasted 112 million viewers. 


Does Linear TV still matter for advertisers?  

There’s been some talk that Linear TV is “dead” because of the growth of digital video and streaming options. And it’s true that the future of TV advertising is headed towards streaming. But Linear TV is absolutely still relevant. It holds unparalleled opportunities for brands to expand reach, diversify their marketing mix, drive short-term sales, and create future demand for their offering. 

Which is why it makes sense that more than two-thirds of brands’ video ad dollars remain dedicated to Linear TV. Just this year, Linear TV saw a rush of DTC brands testing out the channel. And in 2021, 315 brands across 74 categories launched their very first national TV campaigns. 


Connected TV vs Linear TV advertising 

Today, more than 80% of US households have a CTV. As a result, streaming and CTV advertising saw nearly exponential growth over the last couple of years. In 2023, CTV ad spend is expected to surpass $20 billion. That’s quite the leap compared to 2019’s $6.4 billion. 

Because CTVs are connected to the Internet, more precise targeting and deterministic attribution options are available than with Linear TV, allowing brands to reach niche audiences and more definitively determine the results of their campaigns. 

However, CTV inventory isn’t cheap. Depending on the platform, CPMs can be up to 10 times greater than on Linear TV. And because the CTV marketplace is still so new, there's a lack of measurement standardization that can cause different data partners to attribute different results to the same campaign, so advertisers need to be extra vigilant about monitoring the true impact of their ads. 

Plus, the average American spends more than twice the amount of time with live TV as they do with Connected TV. And Linear TV ads boast higher attention levels than CTV ads do.  

The sheer number of streaming and CTV options also means TV viewing audiences are more fragmented than ever before, making it harder for brands to reach everyone they’d like. Advertising only on NBC’s Peacock, for example, could mean missing out on consumers who only subscribe to Hulu. Linear TV still has the largest audience and can provide the broadest reach for advertisers trying to introduce their brand to new audiences. 

Finally, the rush to streaming platforms has started to cool. Fewer consumers feel they save a significant amount of money by watching only streaming. And 40% of viewers say they have difficulty finding interesting content. This has led to about a quarter of Linear TV subscribers being “cord-revivers,” or people who once got rid of pay TV services in favor of streaming platforms but have since decided to switch back. 


Benefits of Linear TV advertising 

Linear TV has been a transformative marketing channel for countless businesses over the years. The most well-known brands today have invested in the channel to achieve their current level of fame. Advertisers continue to invest in Linear TV (or are testing it for the first time) for a few reasons.  

First, all video capitalizes on appealing to consumers through both visuals and audio. But TV commercials take that a step further than digital video ads. By having non-skippable :30 or :60-second ads, brands can tell compelling stories that connect with viewers’ emotions. And by showing those stories on the large TV screen in someone’s home, rather than a mobile phone or laptop, they make an even larger impact. 

Many brands today see Linear TV advertising as a great option for diversifying their marketing mix, especially in preparation for the decline of third-party cookies, since Linear TV avoids the data privacy headaches facing digital channels. And TV provides a solution for brands searching for alternative growth levers as skepticism around the effectiveness of digital ads rises. 

Linear TV advertisers also reap the benefits of long-established beliefs about traditional advertising. Because Linear TV is traditionally an expensive and highly regulated channel, consumers tend to believe that Linear TV advertisers are more trustworthy and therefore attribute greater credibility to these brands. 


How to advertise on Linear TV 

Both CTV and Linear TV offer valuable advertising opportunities, but Linear TV remains the dominant channel for reach and visibility. And if you’re concerned about the traditional challenges to finding success on Linear TV, that is one thing about the channel that has changed. Linear TV advertising doesn’t have to be insanely expensive, and improved measurement capabilities mean you can absolutely attribute ROI to your campaigns—when you approach the channel correctly. 


Interested in learning more?

Connect with our team to talk about making the most of your marketing with TV advertising. Or about your favorite commercial… we’re always happy to talk TV!