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Linear TV Coming Back as More Viewers Stream

When Netflix started streaming its shows on-demand, viewers were freed to watch what they wanted when they wanted. But now old-fashioned linear TV, with its schedules, dayparts and time slots, appears to be making a comeback in the over-the-top world.

Digital Media Rights is launching linear versions of its five channels on the Samsung TV Plus platform. They are being offered as FAST (free ad-supported television) channels. DMR joins several other media companies that found success in the video-on-demand streaming business but felt that some viewers still need help finding something to watch after cutting the cord.

“Linear TV often gets overlooked within the context of a streaming war dominated thus far by SVOD giants, but platforms like Samsung TV Plus provide the perfect environment for people who are looking to unwind and unplug,” said David Chu, president of DMR, which he co-founded 10 years ago. The company’s businesses are digital content aggregation and distribution, over-the-top digital networks and an advertising marketplace.

Online Linear Viewing Grows

Chu points to the growth of streamer Pluto TV, Roku and Xumo, which are seeing bigger chunks of viewing coming via linear channels. At the same time, smart TV operating systems like Samsung’s have gotten less clunky and easier to use.

“It sounds counterintuitive because for the past seven years, we’ve just been conditioned to watch video-on-demand on streaming services,” he said.

Chu said he subscribes to several subscription services. “I’ll be there for 10, 20 minutes flipping through a video-on-demand service, and I still don’t know what I want to watch,” he said. He still subscribes to pay TV and has four or five go-to channels. “I enjoy that lean-back experience and I think the average audience member does, too.”

As viewers — especially 18-to-34-year-olds — cut the cord and go over-the-top, advertisers are starting to follow. And as agencies and brands see that linear streaming services are programmatic, targeted and addressable like AVOD outfits, ad dollars should flow as well, Chu said. “I think that’s one reason why Comcast decided to launch Peacock as an ad-supported service.”

DMR isn’t the only company on the linear bandwagon. In November, Roku added 17 live and linear channels. Sports programmer Whistle, music video service Vevo and Condé Nast’s Bon Appetit also launched linear video channels at the end of last year.

“We definitely have seen a trend towards ‘linear,’ ” said Tal Chalozin, co-founder of Innovid, the big digital video marketing platform.

Chalozin said the number of services offering linear channels is increasing and their subscriber counts are growing. At the same time, the technology to dynamically insert advertising into linear streams is advancing.

At The Trade Desk, a programmatic advertising company, marketers currently view digitally native channels like DMR’s as a scalable option on their CTV media plans across TV-like content in OTT and CTV video, said Tim Sims, senior VP of inventory partnerships. “As the digital natives grow more viewership, they should see more budget from advertisers.” The virtual MVPDs that offer linear feeds digitally “are immensely popular with our advertisers since they give them access into high-quality live TV, including live sports,” he added.

DMR’s channels are AsianCrush, with pan-Asian programming; Cocoro, for kids and families; KMTV, featuring K-pop; Midnight Pulp, with horror, thriller and cult content; and a general entertainment channel, YuyuTV.

Together, the VOD versions of those channels, which were available on Samsung TV Plus among other places, attracted several million unique visitors per month, Chu said.

Eyeing More Platforms

DMR is working to get its channels onto other platforms. “We’re talking to all the leaders right now — Pluto, Roku Channel, Xumo, Stirr, IMDB — and hopefully we’ll have exciting announcements in the near term,” Chu said.

He said getting digital carriage deals is a lot like working with traditional pay TV companies: “It’s not an easy negotiation. They have to vet your channel very carefully.”

Chu said DMR also plans to launch more channels later this year. “We have a freemium model, so you can watch for free with ads or you can subscribe with now ads, and we’ll be concurrently pursuing the FAST platform as well,” he said.