Linear TV: All You Need to Know

immanuel vinikas headshot
Immanuel Vinikas
Updated February 10 2021
Linear TV - Young couple watching television
immanuel vinikas headshot
Immanuel Vinikas
Updated February 10 2021

What is Linear TV?

Simply put, linear TV is the traditional broadcast television system, delivered through cable, satellite, or ‘over the air.’


Then why is it called linear TV? We use the term linear TV to refer to the way the television content is consumed. The viewer can only watch the program that the service provider has “lined up”, according to the broadcast programming schedule. In other words, to watch their favorite tv content, viewers have to tune in to the tv channel that offers the content, at the time it’s scheduled.


What Is the Difference Between OTT, CTV, and Linear TV?

OTT TV, CTV, VOD, … I bet all these abbreviations make you want to buy a vowel. So, let’s bring a bit of order here.


  • What is non-linear TV?

We defined linear TV as content consumed at a set time and on a set TV channel. Non-linear TV removes these limitations. The viewer decides what to watch and when to watch it. OTT TV and CTV fall under the umbrella term non-linear TV.


  • What is OTT TV?

OTT TV stands for over-the-top television. It refers to television content being delivered via the internet in a live or VOD streaming format, without the need for a cable or satellite provider subscription. OTT TV is typically consumed in a non-linear fashion. However, live stream content like live sports events requires the viewer to join at the time of the event and is thus consumed linearly. Netflix, Amazon Prime, and Hulu are popular OTT services. Lately, we have seen major cable TV industry players launch OTT services with great success, such as Disney Plus, HBO, and NBC’s Peacock.


  • What is CTV?

CTV is short for Connected TV. With CTV, television sets are connected to the internet alongside the cable connection, so the viewer can enjoy content from both. Smart TVs are connected TVs where the internet connection and interactive features are integrated into the device. Regular TV sets can be made smart by connecting them to the internet via intermediary devices such as Apple TV, Amazon Fire TV sticks, or game consoles.


These new types of television technology and consumption remind us that the industry is changing. Traditional cable-based linear TV and internet-based non-linear TV differ in their technology, the way they are delivered, and the way they are consumed.


Another major difference between linear and non-linear tv lies in advertising. OTT advertising harnesses web technology that enables targeted online advertising, based on demographics, psychographics, and technology. It also yields a higher ROI. Campaign performance is highly measurable, thanks to the data that can be pulled from the users’ internet activity.


Linear TV uses a more traditional advertising model, based on viewer ratings and time of day. This model limits advertisers to purchasing large-scale ads. Addressable TV partially solves this issue by enabling advertisers to show customized ads to different households watching the same television content.


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The Benefits and Future of Linear TV

Non-linear TV certainly had a disruptive effect on the television market, giving viewers full control over their television consumption and arming advertisers with powerful targeting and analytics tools at a lower cost.


What does that mean for legacy TV? Is linear TV dying? Linear TV did take a serious beating in 2020, with a projected 24% decline in ad spend, due to COVID’s economic impact. To say that it is dying would be a stretch. But the television industry landscape is shifting, and players will need to evolve to stay relevant in the future.


According to the Nielsen Total Audience Report, OTT-capable households spend 19% of their TV time streaming content.  That’s a lot, given the short time that streaming technology has been available. But Linear TV still enjoys the biggest slice of the pie.


Several factors secure linear TV’s future for the time being. Live events are one of them. Whether it’s sports or live game shows in which the audience can cast their votes, linear television is still the undisputed leader. Streaming services like Amazon are vying for their share of the live sports industry. Because of technical limitations such as the higher latency of streaming technology, this area remains linear TV’s territory.


Another factor that locks in with the previous one is linear TV’s longstanding tradition and expertise. Linear TV has the infrastructure and resources to broadcast huge events and cover global news.


A third factor is the major industry players’ understanding of the changing media landscape and their willingness to adopt new technology and innovation. As mentioned earlier, some have launched their own OTT services to get their piece of the pie, like Disney Plus and NBC’s Peacock. Other companies such as Vodafone and Viacom18 have decided to take linear TV to the next level by transforming their platform to Cloud TV.


Linear TV’s Transformation to Cloud TV

Cloud TV enables linear TV operators to leverage cloud-based infrastructure to deliver their services as well as streaming or OTT services. They also get access to the same digital technology as OTT, such as advanced audience targeting and personalization. But at the same time, they also maintain the scalability and robustness of linear TV.


In other words, cloud TV brings operators the best of both worlds.


And linear TV industry players are catching on quickly. The Cloud TV market was valued at 1.96 billion USD in 2020 and is estimated to reach 3.31 billion USD by 2026. The growing adoption of 5G technology, and the demand for high-definition video resolution and low latency, among other things, are fueling the growth of the Cloud TV market.



To sum it all up and answer the main questions in this article, Linear TV is the traditional way of watching television. Despite the threat of newer non-linear TV technology, traditional Pay TV is not yet obsolete. But the media landscape is changing, and linear TV operators need to evolve to remain relevant. Keeping a close eye on the industry, we see Cloud TV as the future of linear TV, because it combines the best of OTT and Pay TV. And our claim is backed by the growing number of big industry players that are adopting the technology.


The Kaltura Cloud TV Platform offers a rich set of features and services that enable TV operators, broadcasters, and media companies to launch Cloud TV experiences for their users. Kaltura powers Cloud TV for customers such as Vodafone, Veon Group, and Viacom18.


Serving more than 27 million Cloud TV users monthly, Kaltura has the experience and know-how to help service providers with their cloud transformation journey.


Take advantage of Kaltura’s ultimate Cloud TV transformation service to provide your viewers with personalized TV experiences while reinvigorating your business with new revenue streams and monetization options.




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