The Demise of Linear TV Is Greatly Exaggerated

Are we really looking at the end of linear TV? Certainly, the signs don’t seem good if you read headlines about cord-cutting and network and cable ratings declines.

Insider Intelligence reports that in 2022, viewing on digital video platforms was just about on par with TV, with consumers averaging 3 hours and 2 minutes per day watching digital video compared to 3 hours and 7 minutes watching linear TV.

This year, the research firm says, daily viewing for TV will be at 2 hours and 55 minutes, while viewing time for digital video will top out at 3 hours and 11 minutes. Therefore, for the first time, linear TV's share of viewing will be below 50% compared to that of digital video at 52.3%. 

So, that’s it, then? Is linear TV done as an effective ad platform?

Far from it -- linear TV is not dead.

To begin with, the universe of OTA (over-the-air) continues to grow. That means that, moving forward, most of the U.S. will continue to have access to network or cable programming.



The Television Bureau of Advertising (TVB) reports that while cable and satellite penetration has declined over the past 10 years, national penetration of OTA (broadcast-only homes) increased by 48%, to some 15% of all U.S. TV households. And this shows no sign of fading.

OTA has also taken hold in local markets in terms of market penetration -- and even in terms of contributions to local TV news viewing.

So for the foreseeable future, the market will still be buying spots for linear TV and buying impressions for all things addressable to optimize national reach.

I’m a big fan of the research done by Peter Fields and Les Binet from Adam&Eve/DDB, especially their findings that optimizing reach against a broad purchase target is a key variable in the success of branding campaigns.   

But in a world where we’re navigating spots and impressions, the industry will need to address two major challenges: ad annoyance for consumers and reach suppression and advertising waste for advertisers caused by high amounts of frequency.  

While we know that advertising frequency is a challenge in connected TV (CTV), with consumers getting the same ad over and over, the issue of frequency in linear is a growing and equally large problem.

For advertisers, this is a particular concern, as reach for a given linear campaign at a given GRP shrinks while frequency expands. 

The challenge that publishers and advertisers face -- which will worsen in the future -- is how to manage reach and frequency across platforms where most consumers are reachable by both linear and addressable.

For the sake of ad-supported television, effectively managing reach and frequency across platforms must be solved. 

The industry has some analytic approaches in the market to address this, but they are not precise enough to manage frequency across platforms based on whatever planning cadence an advertiser cares about -- weekly, monthly, or quarterly.

The ultimate approach needed would forecast where linear reach and frequency will fall, then would place CTV impressions surgically with those insights. 

From the consumer perspective, we don’t want viewers abandoning ad-supported TV because they’re sick of seeing the same ads over and over, regardless of what platform they are watching on.

One way that publishers may generate more yield in the future is to change currency from GRPs or impressions to reach and frequency (RF) and fulfill those RF goals using the fewest number of spots and digital/CTV impressions. In that world, managing cross-platform frequency becomes not just nice-to-have, but an imperative.

From a marketer and agency perspective, while you can’t necessarily control linear frequency, having addressable ads in digital video and CTV that fails to expand linear’s reach and exacerbates linear’s frequency problem is wasteful -- especially when you consider Fields and Binet’s findings. 

The industry has the data in the large-scale data sets alternative currency providers have -- and the forecasting analytics -- to solve this problem. But it will require greater effort and focus, because currently, it doesn’t seem to be high-priority enough.

Let’s fix this now.

3 comments about "The Demise of Linear TV Is Greatly Exaggerated".
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  1. Dan Ciccone from STACKED Entertainment, April 4, 2023 at 11:22 a.m.

    Having access to linear programming and watching it are two different things.  Having a larger universe of people who have access is inconsequential if nobody is watching.

    The market has exponentially moved towards content which should be front and center - not tonnage which is becoming more and more difficult to achieve through traditional means.

  2. Ed Papazian from Media Dynamics Inc, April 4, 2023 at 12:11 p.m.

    Howard, as you know I agree with much of what you are saying.

    But I also believe that before we try to get a measurable fix on cross platform audience duplication, reach/frequency, etc. we should ask ourselves exactly what our "audience" measurements  are giving us. Sadly, it's not viewing, nor is it opportunity to see as upwards of 40% of the assumed "audience" is not even there, hence it has no opportunity to see a commercial. Worse, this is not a constant factor one might try to correct for using statistical weighting methods. Some kinds of people are much more likely to be absent than others;  some kinds of program content are more likely so involve viewers that they are reluctant to leave the room when a break interrupts program content; excess doses of commercials in a break, or excessive repetition of the same message or placement before or within content all have an effect on "audience" , etc. etc.

    In short, we seem to be accepting the need for "deduplicating" not human " audiences" but device screens, instead of focusing on what exactly do we mean by "audience".  Is what we are using---or planning to use----- for "audience" really of much use? Or should we be all-in on attentiveness---or, if that word is bothersome to some---on eyes-on-screen and dwell time as our basic definition of "audience"?At present we are rolling steadily forward on the assumption that if a commercial appears on a screen for a few seconds that this is a workable ---albeit not perfect ----definition of "audience". I, respectfully, disagree.

  3. Tony Jarvis from Olympic Media Consultancy, April 4, 2023 at 8:32 p.m.

    Ed:  You are unequivocally on-point as usual. 
    When commentaries like this do not explicitely define reach that is only meaningful in terms of target groups actually exposed (Eyes-On/Ear-On) to the creative message, i.e., actual "viewing", it's an unforgiveable disservice. 
    In addition, I am guessing that much of Field and Binet's brilliant work used BARB Audience viewing data which is not based on device/screen measures (solely content rendered), to understand value of target audience reach to campaign success.  I also guess (perhaps incorrectly?) that datafuelX is focussed on ACR TV data and not on survey data of the actual viewing of real people, much more expensive.  ACR data merely provides content rendered counts aka viewable impressions. 
    The "Attention" movement in our industry has offerred substantial data on the poor  relationship between 'viewable impressions' and brand outcomes and how that ROI relationship improves dramatically when based on measures of people that pay attention.  Ask Audi Switzerland, Havas Media Group or Dentsu.
    Attention metrics also generally show Linear "fit for TV" programming generating much higher attention levels than other formats as well as on other devices.  No doubt because linear TV drives higher attentive reach??

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