Linear and Non-Linear Television in Nigeria

You may have been hearing the term ‘linear television’ without really knowing exactly what it means. Or maybe you’ve not come across the term at all. Well, it refers to what you see every day on television just that you need to understand how it differs from other forms of television.

Linear television refers to a real-time television service that broadcasts scheduled programmes, conventionally over the air or through satellite/cable. It is not pre-recorded or streamed to a specific user. Nearly, all broadcast television services are linear TV. So you see, it is something you already know just that the concept may not have been a familiar one.

You can now see that in Nigeria there are several linear TV services. Almost everything you know as a television station in Nigeria operates linear TV services. From government to privately owned stations – NTA, AIT, Channels, TVC, among several others – these are linear television service providers. Once you can watch live programmes, see programmes on real time, tune in to any station to watch programmes, it is called linear tv.

Linear TV consists of traditional television viewing. In order to watch a show, the viewer must tune in to a specific channel on television at a particular time. Viewers can access linear television contents via subscription to cable or satellite services, or through over-the-air broadcasts.

This is different from Non-linear viewing which is recorded or delayed viewing. On-demand TV for instance, is a kind of non-linear TV. The On-Demand TV allows viewers to watch a show anytime time they want to do so, not the original time the show was first broadcast. They can also pause the programmes and come back later to finish it, just like is the case on Netflix and Iroko TV which are On-Demand TV services. They can also watch from any device, and they are not restricted to the original airtime of each show. Very busy viewers may also wish to pause when they want, resume the next day, watch their favorite show in the bathroom or on the bus. That is non-linear television. You can also watch a live show on non-linear television when for instance, On-demand platforms are streaming a programme live. But the non-linear television services basically provide opportunity for viewers to watch delayed or pre-recorded programmes which the audience can select by themselves, unlike in the case of linear television where the television station schedules the programmes, whether it is live or recorded. The viewer cannot select a programme he or she missed on television to watch on a later date. But this is possible on non-linear television.

The OTT is a video on-demand service which is non linear tv also. The abbreviation, OTT, is short for over-the-top, which is a term used to refer to the delivery of film and TV content via the internet without requiring users to subscribe to a traditional cable or satellite pay-TV service. Examples of popular OTT services across the world are HBO Now, Hulu, Netflix, Amazon Video, YouTube/YouTube Red and SlingTV. They are non-linear tv services.

In Nigeria, several non-linear television services exist as On-Demand TV such as Iroko TV, Ibaka TV, Arewa 24, Nollyland and Wazobia Nolly. They are becoming popular among the audiences and gradually growing as a strong sub-sector in Nigeria’s broadcast media landscape. Non-linear viewing allows the audience to watch content they had missed or that had been recommended to them following broadcast. Some viewers also appreciate non-linear viewing because it makes it possible for them to view recorded content at a time of their convenience. Such viewers like it when they are able to fast-forward through advertising breaks.

This is a matter of choice as there are several viewers that prefer linear viewing of ‘event TV’ content which makes it possible for them to be part of the conversation surrounding the broadcast. They enjoy linear viewing of live sports events, drama series and soaps to enjoy unfolding suspense in real time or while being aired as scheduled by the station. The ability to broadcast live events is one major reason why linear tv will always remain alive and fashionable among television audience any day any time.

Linear TV also has the ability to target audiences down to the household and even individual level. This is something advertisers like. Targeted advertising is taking up an accelerating proportion of advertising spend. The non-linear (on-demand) services also provide opportunity for targeted advertising because of the possibility of also segregating the audience. But the linear tv provides a bigger horizon for such targeted advertising.

Although on-demand usage is increasing, linear television remains popular due to the immediacy of traditional live programming. You can imagine the massive audiences drawn to the World Cup, the American Super bowl, or the Game of Thrones season finale. That makes linear television very popular and always in high demand despite the technological developments changing consumption patterns in the broadcasting industry.

We hope that you now understand what linear and non-linear TV refer to and how these terms apply in the Nigerian broadcast media industry.

The Author

Chinenye Nwabueze

Nwabueze is a communication researcher with several years of lecturing experience in Nigerian universities.

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