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MVPD vs. vMVPD: What You Need to Know

Vintage television with green screen representing the transition from MVPD to vMVPD.

According to Insider Intelligence, by the end of 2022, only 65.8% of US households subscribed to an MVPD or a vMVPD service. The trend of cord-cutting is on the rise, and by 2027, only a third of US households are expected to have these subscriptions. But it’s not as simple as pitting cord-cutters against cable subscribers. As a recent Kantar survey highlights, today’s TV audiences are a complex mix, willing to switch between traditional and streaming services based on various factors like convenience and price.

Why does this matter to you, especially if you’re in marketing or publishing? Understanding this nuanced viewer behavior and where to place your ads in this dynamic market can set you apart. That’s why we’re taking a close look at MVPD and vMVPD services—explaining what they are, how they differ, and why they still have a role to play. 

What Is Linear TV?

If you’re part of a generation that grew up before the streaming era, traditional linear TV is probably what you’re familiar with. In any discussion of MVPD and vMVPD, you’ll often hear the term ‘linear TV’ thrown around. Understanding what linear TV is can help clarify these discussions.

This type of service offers scheduled programs on specific channels at set times. You tune in, flip through the channels, and watch shows, news, or movies according to the broadcaster’s timetable. Unlike streaming services, linear TV doesn’t allow for pausing, rewinding, or choosing what to watch next—you’re tied to the preset schedule. The service typically comes through cable, satellite, or even an over-the-air antenna.

What Is MVPD?

MVPD stands for Multichannel Video Programming Distributor. If you think of traditional linear TV—like the service many grew up with—MVPD is the provider behind it. Companies like Xfinity, DirecTV, and Spectrum are typical MVPDs, but the model can take various forms. These providers bundle multiple channels, letting you watch shows, news, or movies on a linear TV schedule. Although they mainly use a subscription-based model, many also offer video-on-demand for extra flexibility.

To use an MVPD service, you’ll need specific equipment like a set-top box. Despite the rise of streaming, MVPDs still hold sway, particularly for those who want live and exclusive programming.

What Is vMVPD and How Does It Differ from MVPD?

vMVPD stands for Virtual Multichannel Video Programming Distributor. Like traditional MVPDs, vMVPDs offer a bundle of channels where you can watch shows, news, or movies. The key difference? vMVPDs deliver all of this over the internet, not through cable or satellite. In addition to scheduled, linear TV content from the same channels as MVPD services, vMVPD providers typically offer Video On Demand (VOD) content.

With options like YouTube TV and Hulu Live, watching TV now just needs an internet connection, not a set-top box. This change is expanding where and how we consume content. For viewers, it means more convenience and control over what you watch. For publishers and brands, it opens up new ways to reach and engage with audiences.

What’s the difference between MVPD and vMVPD?

DISH Network sparked the vMVPD trend with the debut of Sling TV back in 2015. This move prompted many traditional MVPDs to offer their own stripped-down packages known as “skinny bundles.” These lighter options cater to younger audiences like Gen Z and millennials, offering no long-term contracts and the freedom to pick and choose channels.

vMVPDs keep costs low by avoiding the hardware investments that traditional MVPDs require. They typically offer month-to-month subscriptions and present smaller bundles ranging from 30 to 100 channels.

Some traditional MVPD providers now include both vMVPD and Video On Demand (VOD) options. For instance, AT&T provides two options: DirecTV for standard broadcasting and DirecTV Stream for mobile, on-the-go viewing. Both services come with VOD features.

Tip for Publishers: Don’t overlook the potential of Video on Demand (VOD) when considering where to place content. Both MVPD and vMVPD services often feature VOD, creating additional opportunities for targeted advertising and viewer engagement.

How Do CTV and OTT Fit Into the Picture?

When talking about vMVPD, you’ll often hear about Connected TV (CTV) and Over-the-Top (OTT) services. CTV refers to internet-enabled devices like smart TVs and gaming consoles, while OTT focuses on the streamed content itself. Some experts make a distinction: CTV for the devices, and OTT for the content.

OTT, short for “over-the-top,” has shifted the landscape of video consumption. Gone are the days when a cable subscription dictated your viewing options. Now, OTT platforms give viewers control over what, when, and where they watch. You can access content on various devices—smartphones, computers, and smart TVs, to name a few.

The appeal of OTT providers like Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, and Hulu lies in their flexibility, ease of use, and original content. You don’t need complex hardware setups, and the costs are often lower than traditional cable packages.

Pug dog attentively watching television, embodying the engaged and diverse audience of MVPD and vMVPD platforms.

Why virtual MVPDs are still relevant

Think OTT platforms like Netflix are making MVPDs obsolete? Think again. Here’s why:

  • Live and Exclusive Events: MVPDs still lead the way in live and exclusive content—be it sports events like the Olympics or award shows.
  • Innovation: MVPDs are far from stagnant. They’re actively adapting to market shifts and consumer preferences.
  • Flexible Packages: Many viewers are choosing a blend of multiple subscriptions instead of one big cable bundle, providing more choices than ever.

How MVPDs and vMVPDs Keep Viewers Engaged

Audiences today are multitasking. They’re shopping, listening to podcasts, or researching future shows while watching TV. According to Kantar, this multitasking spans across different platforms—Amazon Music, Audible, and even IMDb.

What This Means for You

Whether you’re just watching shows or deep in the industry, the media world is changing fast. There’s room for all kinds of content and ways to advertise it. Want to keep up? Consider a versatile approach to making and sharing content.

Ready to simplify your advertising? Check out Adplugg to make it easy.

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