Understanding Linear TV: What is it and How Does it Work?


What is linear TV? 

Linear TV, often referred to as traditional broadcast TV, encompasses cable and satellite television.

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.  So, when you ask, "What is linear TV?", think of it as the classic way of watching TV that has been around for decades.


Who watches linear TV?  

Nearly everyone in the US watches TV to some extent, whether it be linear TV or on-demand. 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.  

The average age of a regular Linear TV viewer is 55 and 84% of linear TV viewers are 35 or older. However, when thinking about linear TV viewership, keep in mind that older audiences are often 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. The 2022 Oscars ceremony was watched by 16.6 million people. The same year’s Super Bowl boasted 112 million viewers. 


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: 

  1. Linear TV offers brands the opportunity to show non-skippable :30 or :60 second ads in customers' homes. By sharing brand stories on the large TV screen in someone’s home, rather than a mobile phone or laptop, they make an even larger impact. 
  2. Linear TV advertising is a great option for brands looking to diversify their marketing mix. Particularly as third-party cookies continue to decline, linear TV avoids the data privacy headaches facing most digital channels.
  3. Linear TV is considered more trustworthy by many consumers. Because linear TV is traditionally an expensive and highly regulated channel, consumers tend to attribute greater credibility to brands on TV. 


Disadvantages of linear TV  

While linear TV has its advantages, it's not without its challenges:

  1. The rise of connected TV and streaming platforms has led to a more fragmented TV viewing audience, making it harder for brands to reach everyone they’d like.
  2. Although linear TV offers a broad reach, it lacks the precise targeting and deterministic attribution options available with CTV.


How does linear TV advertising differ from other types of TV advertising? 

Anyone researching linear TV will encounter search results from other types of TV advertising, particularly as streaming has become more mainstream.


Linear TV vs Connected TV Advertising

Linear TV advertising refers to traditional broadcast or cable and excels in reaching broad audiences. It is ideal for brands aiming for mass exposure. On the other hand, CTV advertising, delivered through internet-connected devices, has advanced targeting capabilities and personalization opportunities.

Utilizing both CTV and linear TV mean that brands can reach niche audiences and large populations.


Linear TV vs Addressable TV Advertising

Addressable TV uses household-level data shared by cable providers to target audiences. TV advertisements are quite literally “addressed” to individual homes based on residents’ interests and characteristics.

While addressable TV advertising offers narrower targeting than linear TV, CTV’s targeting capabilities are even more advanced.


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 toward 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. Last year, linear TV saw 303 advertisers launch their very first national TV campaigns. These advertisers spanned 71 categories and included B2B, B2C, and DTC 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.

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 easily attribute ROI to your campaigns—when you approach the channel correctly. If you're looking for a linear TV advertising agency to help you navigate this landscape, it's essential to choose one that understands the unique dynamics of this channel.


Interested in learning more about advertising on linear TV?

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!