Is Linear TV Dying?

The traditional TV world that we all grew up with is gone but we may just be looking at the new golden age of TV.

The traditional TV world that we all grew up with is gone.  The adoption of streaming platforms continues to encroach on the monopoly that broadcast and cable networks have had on U.S. consumers for nearly a century.  This digital invasion has even forced the renaming of the legacy platforms to now be collectively referred to as “linear TV.”  Meanwhile, Connected TV (CTV) has finally hit its stride and massive investments by technology and media giants over the past few years ensure there is no going back.

U.S. consumers now spend 36.4% of their viewing time watching streaming services, per Nielsen’s “The Gauge” May 2023 measurement.  That is up nearly 4.5% of viewing time year-over-year, while cable TV was down 5.4% and broadcast down 1.8%.  CTV is just incessantly eating away at the linear platforms’ share of consumers’ time.

To maintain its foothold, broadcast and cable rely heavily on live sports, exemplified by the sheer dominance of the NFL. In 2022, 24 of the top 27 most viewed broadcasts were NFL games (88%), with eight of these in the top ten as well. The top original content on linear TV came in at number 32, with the Yellowstone finale on Paramount’s cable network.

The influence of the NFL with the American consumer is undeniable, and now even those games are shifting to streaming.  Amazon debuted their exclusive “Thursday Night Football” last fall on Prime Video and Twitch, with no linear broadcasts (except simulcast in local markets).  And YouTube invested $2 billion annually for the exclusive rights to air “NFL Sunday Ticket.”  Live sports represents a battlefield for viewer attention and with more experimentation, strategic audacity, and massive budgets, CTV’s power will likely increase here as well.

The snowballing momentum of CTV can be traced to several key factors:


First, there has been a normalization of streaming platforms built directly into Smart TVs and cable boxes, and in external devices from Roku, Amazon, Apple and Google, and video gaming systems. This proliferation has weaved a Connected TV audience of over 230 million viewers, according to eMarketer.

Next, media companies created apps designed to be navigated via remote controls and  invested heavily to ensure they are available to audiences across many devices.


Media companies populate their services with massive amounts of purchased, original, and live content, spending billions of dollars on rights and production. Publishers organize their content for consumers and sell them in several different models:

  • Subscription

    Fees paid monthly/annually to provider for access

    Publishers:  Netflix, Disney+, Max, Amazon Prime Video, Apple TV+

  • Advertising-based Video on Demand (AVOD)

    “Free” content in exchange for consumer watching video ads, just like linear TV

    Publishers:  Peacock (owned by Comcast), FreeVee (owned by Amazon), Hulu (owned by Disney) and apps from linear TV networks

  • Free Ad Supported TV (FAST)

    Digital equivalent of basic cable with hundreds of channels available inside one app, including custom-created channels. These platforms also present ads for monetization

    Publishers:  Pluto (owned by Paramount), Tubi (owned by Fox), Xumo (owned by Comcast), Samsung TV+

  • Online Hybrids

    Platforms that migrated from other digital platforms such as mobile phones and computers to the bigger TV screens

    Publishers:  YouTube, Twitch (owned by Amazon), Facebook Watch

And just to make it more complicated, publishers are now offering options outside of their original models.  Subscription services offer discounted price plans with ad support.  AVOD platforms offer monthly subscription fees to remove or reduce ads.  Both groups are experimenting with their own FAST-style offers; and YouTube continues to be an anomaly in its own right that doesn’t quite fit into categories with other streaming providers.

Consumer Adoption

Americans stuck inside their houses looking for entertainment during the pandemic fueled the explosive growth of CTV adoption.  Disney+ met its five-year subscriber growth in roughly five months.  HBO Max (since renamed “Max”) debuted and aired movies initially intended for theaters.  And Netflix continued its dominance as a go-to for streaming shows and movies.

Apple invested in original programming and sports (Major League Baseball).  Amazon further invested across hardware, original content, and bought MGM to provide itself with a content catalog including the James Bond movies. Google’s approach emphasized Chromecast devices and YouTube content, and now YouTube TV is a direct competitor to traditional cable systems.

Altogether, we watched the evolution of a completely new paradigm of what we now call TV, where consumers have massive amounts of choice across highly advanced digital platforms.

The Allure of CTV Advertising

Whereas subscription services increase revenue one consumer at a time, ad-supported models are open to large buckets of advertising dollars.  With overall TV ad spending estimated by eMarketer at $67 billion in 2022, it is of no surprise Disney+, Max, and Netflix are offering free-with-ads options.

The digital nature of CTV enables for highly effective, scalable advertising, potentially even more so than with mobile phones and computers.  Connected TV viewers create data signals with their watching and browsing behavior that advertisers use for targeted marketing.  Further, CTV targeting can incorporate data from phones and computers to create a more complete picture of the consumer.

Consumers consistently accept the value exchange of “free” content for watching a few minutes of advertising per hour.  According to a study by Amazon, 68% of CTV audiences are comfortable with this exchange, and 40% have a likelihood to make purchasing decisions based on the increasingly targeted ads.

This is an advertiser’s dream: advanced, accurate targeting to a receptive audience. Further, most CTV advertising is unskippable—just like linear TV.  This lets the ad buyer rely on their experience in traditional TV with massively amped up opportunities and powerful data analytics opportunities.

Linear TV Protects its Turf

In response to this invasion, linear TV companies are trying to protect all fronts.  Collectively, linear TV still provides advertisers the greatest “reach” to consumers of any media platform, a virtue that TV network sale reps consistently extol.  Additionally, linear is still where 94.2% of all live viewing occurs.  This is why news and sports are so critical for linear TV.  ION, a TV network known for binge-able procedural dramas and the Scripps Spelling Bee, recently acquired the rights to air WNBA games on Friday nights.

Linear TV also has the advantage of familiarity to advertisers.  Advertisers are exploring the new CTV world, but they still rely on the comfort level of placing ads with their old friends, broadcast and cable.  New can be unsettling.  CTV is audience-based at its core, which is partially antithetical to traditional TV buyers, who are used to buying estimated demographics based on content and context.  That is, they buy particular networks; they buy specific shows.  This provides linear TV with a short-term advantage as the current labyrinth of CTV ad-tech makes show-level data challenging for both targeting and reporting.

But linear TV is constrained and seems antiquated when compared to the sheer possibilities of CTV.  Linear is a single broadcast per channel, but CTV can stream multiple interactive simulcasts.  Linear relies on other technologies such as mobile phones for response mechanisms to advertising, while CTV can provide shoppable ads with a remote control, immediately linked to retailer accounts.

So, is linear TV dying? 

Likely no, or at least not any time soon.  CTV parallels the rise of online shopping in the late 1990’s.  25 years later, there remains room for both brick-and-mortar and online retailers.  The most successful seamlessly incorporate both.  CTV will take a similar path, except this convergence is happening faster.  Current cable boxes already have “channels” for Netflix, YouTube and other streaming platforms, allowing viewers to shift easily from one content source to another.  With the massive amount of content now available, the next race will be to increase relevancy via search, discoverability, and relevant advertising.  The change is well under way and we may just be looking at the new golden age of TV.

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