Linear vs. Streaming: What’s Your Strategy?

Sheltering at home in 2020 brought on a huge boost in video and television consumption on traditional linear networks and streaming services. In March, April, and May of 2020, we saw a large number of consumers paying more attention to traditional TV, streaming TV, and the web by 40%. As destinations develop their marketing strategies for 2021 and beyond, it’s important to consider the benefits and challenges found in linear and streaming services. To help you determine the right balance to accomplish your goals, we’ve compiled a quick analysis.

Let’s Start With the Basics

When you’re comparing linear vs. streaming for your strategy, it helps to know the difference between them.

Linear viewing refers to the traditional television model where consumers watch content that the provider presents. Linear advertising can also mean Connected TV (CTV) and Over-the-Top (OTT) options. The user watches a video and is served a banner ad or another video. The platform or network selects content, creating a passive viewer experience. Another challenge comes from DVR services that allow the viewer to fast forward through or skip ads on recorded programming. 

Streaming gives the viewer control of their experience. They choose what they want to watch on demand and can start, pause, rewind, and fast forward content. The streaming model is now the preferred method of watching television for consumers. Time spent streaming surpassed linear viewing in 2019 and has continued to increase over time.

Benefits Comparison

Linear content consumption has been around for a long time and is familiar for users. Decades of data are available to understand the demographics of viewers on different networks. This data shows how to best engage consumers with advertisements. One way to boost linear ad engagement is to purchase spots during the morning or evening news. This is when viewers are more “tuned” into the program and less likely to skip or miss ads. However, the lack of consumer control is the primary downfall of linear viewing. Some consumers flip through channels rather than watching ads. Others change the channel to avoid watching commercials. Many don’t want their viewing experience dictated by the provider. 

Streaming services allow the consumer to choose what they watch at any time and creates several key benefits to advertisers:

  • As noted in a recent Think With Google Article, “According to a Google-commissioned Nielsen study, YouTube reached more adults ages 18 to 49 in the U.S. than all linear TV networks combined in March 2020.”
  • When comparing the average time spent streaming in Q3 of 2019 to Q3 of 2020, Samsung reports a 43% increase year-over year and anticipates continued growth. 
  • Promotion on streaming services means advertisers are reaching an audience that can easily be tracked. While some streaming ads are not clickable, it’s still possible to capture view-through traffic. Some platforms can pair an ad viewed through streaming with a website visit, providing evidence proving ad effectiveness. 
  • Subscriptions within streaming platforms have concerned advertisers who feared they’d be unable to reach a majority of users. However, ad-supported video on demand (AVOD) is the fastest growing viewing platform. While there are plenty of subscribed users who opt out of ads, a majority of streaming service users have a free account where they are served ads. Trends show AVOD reaches more viewers than linear. AVOD is also growing faster in average time spent than subscription video on demand.

What Does This Mean For Your Strategy?

Unsure whether to include linear or streaming ads in your strategy? Consider who you’re trying to reach. Does research show that your ideal audience tends to watch certain networks or types of programming? Do they use mobile devices to consume content or is television their go-to? If you’re unsure, consider investing in a Visitation Intelligence Report or deeper analysis to define your audience. 

To reach a wider audience, advertising on both streaming and linear services is your best option. Customize the ad type and messaging to connect with distinct audiences on different platforms while maintaining a cohesive brand voice. An ad on traditional network television should be crafted with that format in mind and not used interchangeably with ads built for streaming services.

As more consumers shift to streaming platforms, your budget should transfer accordingly. Samsung reports that:

  • Streaming commands 63% of consumer viewing time and is expected to follow the same trend. 
  • 75% of Samsung viewers spend 87% of their time streaming vs 13% watching linear programming. 
  • Advertisers who continue to solely invest in traditional linear advertising are missing 7 in 10 viewers

Let’s Bring it All Together

Three key linear vs. streaming takeaways:

  • Advertising within streaming and linear services provides brand lift. They should be used in tandem with other tactics that guide the consumer toward consideration and conversion. Your goal should be to increase brand awareness and ad recall across multiple channels, not rely solely on these ads to drive visitation.
  • Deliver impressions that inspire, spark imagination, and encourage the viewer to seek out additional information about your destination. Tailor your brand message to the platform your ad appears on.
  • While linear advertising is still valuable to reach particular audiences, destinations need to consider the audiences they aren’t reaching if they don’t incorporate streaming. All signs are pointing toward streaming services becoming the primary placement to reach consumers while they watch TV.
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