What Are Linear TV Ads & How Do They Work

Jan 4, 2023 / Industry Insights / FOTW

Although we’re well into the internet age, there still remains a soft-spot for television as a medium for entertainment. But thanks to the internet, “television” has evolved into multiple platforms — with linear TV still holding onto its place in the entertainment space. According to Thinkbox’s report from November 2022, the average weekly reach of linear TV among persons was 85.2%, making it one of the best advertising channels still.

In this article, we discuss everything you need to know about linear television, including how you can advertise on it, plus how it compares to its younger siblings, Connected TV and OTT.

What is Linear TV?

Linear TV provides access to programming via paid cable or satellite subscriptions or free over-the-air transmissions. The term “linear” describes the order in which the content is presented to the viewer. A broadcaster’s programming schedule dictates when they can view TV shows. They have to watch a certain station at a certain hour in order to catch their shows. This is the method of presentation utilised by classic TV and radio broadcasters.

The practice of watching television in chronological order, or “linear TV,” has become common parlance. Only the shows that are “lined up” on the service provider’s end of the broadcast schedule will be available to the viewer. In other words, viewers need to tune in to the specific channel that broadcasts the desired information at the specified time in order to watch it.

Linear television, or TV for short, is the standard broadcast TV system accessible via antenna or dish.

Linear vs OTT vs CTV ads

Linear TV, Connected TV, Over-the-Top – Oh my! All of these terms relate to television in one way or another, but they mean different things. And since they’re different types of television, they also feature different types of television adverts

But how do they work? Let’s take a look at the three types of TV and how advertising works on each of them:

Linear TV advertising

Linear television is the conventional method of receiving television programming, which entails tuning in via satellite or cable at a predetermined time rather than watching shows whenever the viewer wants to. Prime time is when most people are watching TV. Thus, that’s when the majority of programmes air. Linear TV shows can be recorded and viewed at a later time with a DVR. 

Even while linear TV has the biggest audience, the increasingly competitive TV landscape has led to a fragmentation of audiences. However, linear TV advertising still has its advantages:

1. Reaching older audiences

Not to play to stereotypes, but it’s true that some people of a certain age group have trouble keeping up with the constantly evolving technology required to use modern TV services. But that’s not at all bad news for marketers and advertisers. Linear TV still has an advantage over CTV and OTT channels in that it allows for targeted advertising to a certain demographic.

The majority of those in the 55+ year old demographic are avid linear TV viewers, according to a 2021 report.

2. Targeting specific audiences

One of the biggest aspects of creating a good TV commercial is knowing where your audiences are. Reaching those audiences is key to a successful TV advertising campaign, and placing advertisements on linear TV is a great way to broaden the reach of your brand.

Although TV advertising doesn’t allow you to target specific individuals, companies are still able to target their audiences on a broader scale. Choosing the right channels and times to show your linear TV ads gives you a great deal of control over your reach and effectiveness. You can more easily market to a specific demographic if you know what channels they watch. And since many viewers tune in to specific channels for specific shows or follow specific viewing patterns, you may time your commercials to maximise exposure.

3. Live TV events

While non-linear TV platforms provide viewers with the freedom to watch programming whenever they want, many still prefer the immediacy of live TV for everything from major international sporting events to breaking news. For the most part, live, linear TV advertisements aren’t skippable, meaning that there is a higher chance for a company’s commercials to be successful.

As an example, millions of people all over the world tune in to watch the FIFA World Cup, the Euros and the Olympics every time they’re broadcast live, despite there only being one event every four years. The popularity of these events, among others, makes them a fantastic opportunity for live advertising.

OTT advertising

The term “over-the-top,” or OTT, describes the delivery of television programming over an internet connection as opposed to a cable or satellite subscription. Therefore, over-the-top advertising refers to the practice of promoting goods and services to an online audience as they watch a video stream. Numerous OTT services exist, such as Netflix, Disney+, Hulu, Amazon Prime Video, Hulu, Peacock, CuriosityStream, Pluto TV, and many others.

Over-the-top (OTT) adverts, sometimes known as streaming TV advertisements, are the commercials shown to viewers when they watch through these channels. More and more people are turning to online video services like Netflix and Hulu to watch television shows and movies instead of tuning in to broadcast or cable networks — and these companies are taking advantage.

When displayed on TV screens, OTT advertising functions similarly to other direct-response advertising avenues, with the added benefit of the immersive experience that only television can provide. As you might expect, OTT advertising carries its own unique benefits compared to linear TV:

1. Better targeting and metrics

Marketers no longer have to assume or generalise about a demographic group or target audience, both of which can lead to erroneous results for a marketing campaign. Advertising in OTT programming is delivered on a one-to-one basis. That means you can reach a specific viewer, no matter where they are or what they’re watching, and, better yet, on any device.

More importantly, OTT provides a wealth of information about viewer habits and preferences. A detailed portrait in numbers allows advertisers to target individuals depending on their viewing preferences.

2. High-quality inventory

Brands can select an OTT partner with first-look rights while a large portion of digital advertising is purchased programmatically. Prior to being made available on programmatic exchanges, certain partners have the option of selecting content for advertisers. This has many benefits, including allowing advertisers to avoid the targeting limitations of programmatic ad buying.

Plus, advertisers can avoid having a disproportionate amount of their budget going to a single platform or publisher by strategically allocating it among multiple platforms and broadcasters. The impact on the success of the campaign as a whole is substantial. Finding a partner who has first dibs on OTT content is the best way to maximise the benefits of this type of advertising.

3. Advanced delivery capabilities

Thanks to over-the-top (OTT), advertisers will never have to second-guess whether or not their commercials were seen. Over-the-top (OTT) advertising has the unique ability to provide attribution that traditional TV formats cannot. 

Pixel-based tracking lets advertisers know if and when a user sees an ad, clicks through to the advertiser’s website, and how long they stay there. This information is accessible to brands regardless of the medium in which their target audience consumes media.

CTV advertising

Finally, we have Connected TV, or CTV for short. When a user has CTV installed, their TV is linked to the internet in addition to their cable provider, allowing them to stream material from either source. Internet connectivity and user interactivity are built right into the screen of a smart TV. Ordinary televisions can be transformed into smart TVs by connecting them to the internet using intermediate devices like Apple TV, Amazon Fire TV sticks, or game consoles.

These alternative methods of TV access and viewing serve as a timely reminder that the business is evolving. In comparison to non-linear TV, which is provided and watched through the internet, traditional cable-based linear TV has distinct technological, delivery, and viewing advantages.

While CTV and OTT tend to be used interchangeably, they are two different yet interconnected aspects of television. In spite of the fact that CTV devices bridge the gap between TVs and OTT apps, they are really two separate platforms. As such, CTV advertising is also its own thing with its own advantages:

1. Reach broader audiences

Even if people are spending less time in front of “traditional” telly, they are spending more time in front of a connected TV. People are increasingly turning to CTVs to watch material that was previously only available via cable, broadcast, or satellite as a result of the boom of OTT services offering anything from TV shows to blockbuster movies to Premier League matches. That is to say, it’s not that fewer people are tuning in to television, but rather that they are getting their fix in other ways.

Viewership is still on the rise, especially among younger groups like Gen Z and millennials, despite the varying degrees of acceptance of CTV — from cord-cutters to cord shavers and even to “cord nevers”. Advertising through CTV is key to getting to these audiences.

2. Better targeting

While only a fraction of commercials on traditional TV may be targeted, every CTV advert is targetable. This paves the way for contextual targeting, in which CTV marketers can narrow in on certain groups of people based on demographics and other information. Once the parameters for targeting have been established, marketers may use data from the advertising platform’s features, like real-time reporting to fine-tune their strategies and cut down on unnecessary ad spending.

Here are some of the ways advertisers can target through CTV:

  • Demographic — namely geolocation, average household income,
  • Daypart — breakfast, primetime etc.
  • Content type — such as TV channels, programmes, movies
  • Category — e.g. news, entertainment, sports
  • Broadcast type — like linear, VOD


3. Personalisation

Customers nowadays are savvier than ever before and tend to expect a tailored and purposeful advertising experience. Achieving this goal can be accomplished in a number of ways, including the use of targeting tactics like those we discussed above and the development of an omnichannel experience for prospective buyers. You probably saw one or more adverts on various platforms that kept the product fresh in your mind until you finally clicked “add to cart” after being first exposed to it in a single ad.

Advertisers can deliberately reach their target consumers via CTV, and then retarget on the same device or across channels, including search, social media, and more, making it an ideal component of an omnichannel approach.

Which is the best method to advertise on TV?

Advertisers considering television airtime would do well to familiarise themselves with the variations between the different TV formats available. There are significant distinctions between the various advertising formats, each with its own set of advantages, and it is up to you to determine which one is the best fit for your marketing campaign objectives, or you can speak to an experienced  TV agency  to help you with your goals that fit within your budgets.

It is important to monitor the performance of your advertisement on the platform you choose. Knowing your alternatives will help you locate your target demographic and select the strategy that will bring about the intended outcome when developing a TV marketing campaign.

Keen on seeing what TV advertising can bring to your brand? Get in touch with an experienced advertising agency who’ll be able to help you get the job done!