From 2008 through its peak in 2018, US linear TV advertising posted YoY increases most years except during the economic upheaval of 2008 and 2009. Spending rebounded slightly after the pandemic wiped nearly $9 billion off the market in 2020, but in 2023, spending will be roughly equivalent to that year. Looking forward, Insider Intelligence expects the long-term trend to continue downward, with no turnaround in sight. Still, there are reasons you shouldn’t discount linear TV just yet. 

What is linear TV?

Linear TV is TV that is programmed and watched as scheduled through a satellite or cable network. It is not streamed to a specific user on-demand. 

Linear TV ads are also programmed and delivered on a schedule. Users have no control over the ads, and there are no user-level targeting methods. 

What are the benefits of linear TV for advertisers?

In 2023, 235.0 million people will watch TV in the US, a little over 69% of the population, according to Insider Intelligence’s June 2023 forecast. Though that number will shrink in the years ahead, there are still a couple of benefits to advertising on linear TV.

  • Consumers are conditioned to expect ads. The ad experience on linear TV feels less disruptive because that’s how it’s always been. However, it could also lead to consumers tuning ads out. 
  • Advertisers can reach an older demographic. Baby boomers will spend a daily average of 4 hours and 38 minutes with TV in 2023, the most out of any generation, per Insider Intelligence’s June 2023 forecast. Comparatively, Gen Z will only spend 1 hour and 2 minutes per day on TV in 2023. 

What is advanced TV and how does it apply to linear TV?

Advanced TV comprises linear and digital TV paired with technology that allows for new features, components, or uses. Linear addressable TV, linear programmatic TV, and connected TV (CTV) are all subsets of advanced TV under this definition.

  • Linear programmatic TV advertising uses software to offer select programs and advertising packages to households. Such software can identify high-indexing programs or time slots against advanced audience parameters; ad insertion is less commonly automated.
  • Linear addressable TV advertising delivers targeted ads on a home-by-home basis via cable and satellite boxes. Such ads include those in video-on-demand and those delivered by dynamic ad insertion technology from smart TVs connected to set-top boxes. This excludes ads served on CTVs, internet-only connected smart TVs, and OTT platforms

What marketers need to know about linear TV 

Linear TV ad spend will total $61.31 billion this year, an 8.0% decline YoY, per Insider Intelligence’s forecast. Insider Intelligence expects this decline to continue through 2027 (except for small bumps in 2024 and 2026 due to the US presidential election and the Olympics). 

What is contributing to the decline of linear TV? 

The number of linear TV viewers is falling as CTV and streaming services fight for consumers’ attention and wallets. Top streaming services include YouTube, Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Prime Video. Linear is also losing its shine with advertisers because it lacks the targeting and measurement capabilities of other platforms, according to a May 2023 Yahoo Advertising survey. 

How does linear TV compare with CTV? 

The main difference between linear TV and CTV is how they are delivered. Linear TV is delivered through a cable service or satellite, whereas CTV is delivered digitally, through the internet. 

Advertisers praise CTV for its ability to target audiences in a more precise way. However, the CTV landscape is becoming increasingly fragmented and it can be difficult to measure the effectiveness of ads. 

What will replace linear TV?

Linear TV may be on the decline, but it isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. Linear programmatic TV ad spend is a particular bright spot in the coming years, growing by double digits through 2025, according to Insider Intelligence’s May 2023 forecast. However, the shift will continue toward CTV advertising as marketers benefit from its enhanced targeting and measurement options, as well as its potential for interactivity, ecommerce, and attribution.