Linear TV: A Master of Evolution

(Image credit: Pixabay)

Since on-demand streaming emerged as a serious contender in the battle for viewers' time and attention, linear TV has undoubtedly been experiencing a decline. That said, despite many in the industry even predicting its death, there remains a substantial market for traditional, broadcast television. 

Far from leaving linear channels behind, some of the big platforms such as Paramount and Roku have even launched new linear channels over the past years. Paramount Plus rolled out 18 linear channels in December 2021, with specific genres or subgenres, such as Crime and Justice, Adult Animation and Black Voices. Similarly, Roku launched 14 linear channels in August 2022. 

With an abundance of new subscription and advertising supported streaming services all competing for new audiences, the market has become increasingly competitive. Modern viewers have the luxury to be fickle and are quick to divert their attention from interest to another.  

Audiences need to be targeted quickly when interest is high, otherwise the opportunity to capture their attention may be lost. Traditional methods of launching and operating linear TV, where it used to take months to deliver a new TV channel, are no longer commercially viable. Advancements in technology have made it easier than ever to launch a linear channel. However, for it to be successful, broadcasters need to carefully consider, target audience, content, monetisation, and distribution platform.

Understand the Audience
One of the very first things to identify when it comes to launching a linear channel is the target demographic. The average age of an audience is a critical determining factor when it comes to deciding on the best platform.  Audience age will also inform what sort of content is needed, as well as which is the best business model to adopt. Certain age groups are more likely to use some platforms over others. Twitch for example is popular with users aged between 16 and 34, while Roku is popular across multiple generations.

Audience location is another important factor, particularly when it comes to deciding on the most appropriate platform and business model. Just as viewers in some regions are more willing to subscribe to ad-supported content than in others, some platforms are more popular in certain regions. For example, for an audience spread across age groups in the US and Canada, it makes sense to choose a platform that appeals to a wide age range, such as Roku.

Know the Content
The content broadcast obviously has to be of interest to the target audience. A lack of compelling content will result in repetitive schedules, and this will quickly become boring for viewers. For a channel to be successful, it not only needs enough content at the point of launch, but also enough new content regularly available, whether being produced or acquired, to keep it fresh and interesting.

Channel content could be centred around pretty much anything, from home improvement to sport, there just needs to be a big enough audience out there to make the channel viable. One example of a recently launched linear channel is Tubi’s FIFA World Cup FAST Channel, which shows both analysis around this year’s world cup as well as highlights from previous tournaments. 

Popular themes such as entertainment will have the most competition, so it is worth considering whether a more niche focus may be better. Other key considerations around content include whether it will be live, or file based, and how much content is available. In order to maintain stickiness and keep audiences glued, content will need to be refreshed regularly.  

Choose the Right Monetization Model
Defining who the target audience will be and identifying how much engaging content is available will help to determine whether a subscription, or advertising-based model is best. For the subscription-based model to be successful, a large library of high-quality content is generally needed to attract paying subscribers. Another consideration is that viewers with higher incomes tend to prefer to pay subscriptions rather than watching advertising so a channel dedicated to fine wines may perform better on a paid-for platform.

In the current, strained economic climate where audiences are looking to reduce outgoing costs, a model without a subscription fee may be more desirable to most consumers.  However, the onus will be on the broadcaster to demonstrate that the channel is capable of generating ad revenue. 

This will require selling the channel to platforms and providing statistics or reasonable projections on audience figures and demographics. It can also work to have a hybrid mix of both models, with an ad-funded tier and a subscription tier, catering to different preferences and budgets as Netflix has just launched.

Decide on the Distribution Platform
Will it work best to broadcast the channel over a streaming platform or over more traditional cable, satellite or digital terrestrial TV? As already mentioned, this will depend largely on location and the age of your target audience, the type of content, and the monetization model. 

Getting the distribution method right really can make or break a linear channel, because it impacts on the ability to grow the audience. There are a whole host of streaming platforms out there so finding the right one to suit a particular channel shouldn’t be too difficult.

While it is undeniable that the current TV and video landscape has created some challenges for linear TV operators, it is fair to say that it has also unlocked some exciting opportunities. While linear TV broadcast via traditional methods still has a decent audience size, the streaming TV revolution has made it possible to reach new audiences and new regions, with both mainstream and niche channels. 

Research, Plan, Create and Distribute
For a linear TV channel to be successful, it’s important to first start by researching the market and identifying the target audience. When it has been established who will be watching the channel, and what they want to watch, it is then possible to make an informed decision about whether to adopt a subscription based or ad-supported model.

Then comes the time to decide which platform or distribution method would work best, whether that be OTT, satellite, cable or terrestrial TV. When all of that has been decided, it’s time to create the channel, plan scheduling, and distribute it to your audience.

With research, careful planning, and the right infrastructure in place, it’s possible to create a truly great linear channel that is engaging and competitive. It certainly looks like linear TV is set to continue its evolutionary journey for some time to come. 

Gatis Gailis

Gatis Gailis is CTO for Veset