From tentpole events to buzzed-about scripted series, there are still reliable pockets of viewers to be found on linear TV.
So much for TV being dead.
Linear broadcast has posted impressive ratings numbers for programming during the last few weeks that isn’t live sports, proving that there are still opportunities for brands to find mass reach through entertainment that isn’t streaming from an Apple device, Roku or Netflix.
Paramount Network’s “Yellowstone” and Adele’s concert and conversation on CBS both drew large audiences despite the assumptions that buzzworthy content can only be found on streaming platforms.
“From a buyer’s perspective, clearly, linear TV isn’t where it was five or 10 years ago,” said Mike O’Connor, executive VP of video investment at Horizon Media. “That said, in terms of a quick burst, there’s nowhere you can go to get 3, 5, 10 million viewers in one moment like you can on linear TV.”
Overall TV ratings have been rocky—hardly a new trend in the linear space—but O’Connor suggests “things are better than people had anticipated from a ratings perspective,” with several programming categories’ ratings performance flat year-over-year, or even slightly up in some cases.
“I think sports is probably the most reliable and most talked about at this point. If you look at the top 100 programs in any given year, something like 75 of them are going to be sports programming,” he said. “But I think good one-o! specials are certainly something that we look for.”
Brands such as financial services firm Ally and wellness company Headspace hit on a cultural moment this month with CBS’s “Adele One Night Only,” a concert interspersed with a sit-down interview with Oprah Winfrey. The event drew about as many viewers as this year’s Oscars telecast; the Nov. 14 broadcast was watched by an average of 10.3 million viewers, according to Nielsen.
The success of the Adele special shouldn’t come as much of a surprise: Winfrey’s two-hour sit-down with Prince Harry and Meghan Markle earlier this year drew 17.1 million viewers, according to Nielsen.
Mike Bloxham, executive VP of global media and entertainment at business strategy firm Magid, sees Adele as the “antithesis of the modern ‘celebrity,’” whose appearances have the cachet to match.
“And so a major interview with Adele is almost as much of an event as an album release,” he said. “Add to that the rarity of a major Oprah interview these days and it becomes even more of an event. The same formula worked for the Harry and Meghan interview.”
The numbers are there—if you know where to look
“There’s still a large volume of consumption on linear TV,” said Brian Wieser, GroupM’s global president of business intelligence.
A significant percentage of October viewership was made up of long-reliable sports broadcasts such as NFL games, and the numbers were still down overall from the 40 billion or so hours consumed during the same month in 2020. Wieser calculates that Americans collectively watched about 38 billion hours of TV in October—nearly a quarter of which was on internet-connected devices, including ad-free experiences.
Still, the total number of eyeballs looking at linear remains an attractive promise to marketers. TV is “still large in an absolute sense,” he said. “The absolute tonnage is still bigger than anything else.”
In Wieser’s estimation, an obstacle for marketers is that much of the so-called buzzworthy “water cooler programming” recently—think “Squid Game,” “Tiger King,” and the like—is served up by streamers such as Netflix, and, consequently, in ad-free environments.
Excluding sports playo!s, award ceremonies and one-night-only specials, there are still avenues to find audiences on scripted TV. Take the Paramount Network’s “Yellowstone,” for example; its season 4 two-parter premiere earlier this month attracted 14.7 million viewers across the four channels it was simulcast on within the three days after it aired, excluding streaming.
That impressive showing represents a more than 50% increase from its season 3 premiere last year and makes it the most-watched season premiere on cable since the season 8 debut of “The Walking Dead” in 2017.
And those eyeballs have been meaningful for the cross-section of brands advertising during its newest season, including broad appeal companies like Ram Trucks and ZipRecruiter, as well as ranching- and outdoorsman-oriented brands that have a connection with the show’s themes, including Tractor Supply Co., Duluth Trading Company and the National Cutting Horse Association.