NICE AND EASY: What is “linear TV?”

It’s, you know, TV like old people watch.

All right, that’s a little harsh. “Linear TV” is what’s called a retronym. That’s a phrase like “analog clock, ” “snail mail” or “landline phone” that gives a new name to something that we used to just call by something simpler. Retronyms come around when new technologies are invented but the old technologies are still used. For example, when you need to tell someone that your grandmother can’t get texts because she has a “landline phone.” When your grandmother was growing up, that was just called a “phone” but since cell phones were invented, we need a new word.

In this specific case, “linear TV” means all forms of video that come from an antenna, cable or satellite provider, with live video sent to you in real time. This is opposed to IPTV or streaming TV, which is only provided when it’s requested. Linear TV is old-school TV, it’s the TV you sit down to watch at 8pm when the big shows are on. Of course there’s a fair-to-middling chance that you’re also watching IPTV at the same time, but that’s the subject for another article.

A lot of folks believe linear TV will be all but dead within 20 years, that no one will actually want to watch live. What do you think?

About the Author

Stuart Sweet
Stuart Sweet is the editor-in-chief of The Solid Signal Blog and a "master plumber" at Signal Group, LLC. He is the author of over 7,000 articles and longform tutorials including many posted here. Reach him by clicking on "Contact the Editor" at the bottom of this page.