In a rare decision in today’s online age, you turn on your television. You flip through the channels, but seeing nothing currently on that you like, you’re about to hit that power button on your remote and resort to continue binge-watching House of Cards on your computer. But, right as you are about to press your thumb down, an ad appears on your screen and asks you to reconsider what you’re doing right now.
That advertisement is real. ESPN is launching a brand-new ad campaign to try and convince viewers to forget streaming services and watch sports—specifically, ESPN’s coverage of it—live instead, Variety reports. The sports broadcasting and analysis network is releasing a series of commercials that specifically target users of Netflix—and other companies similar to Netflix, like Hulu and Amazon—as well as Facebook and Twitter. Each ad, under the banner of a different enemy in mind, speaks directly to the TV viewer and lets them know that the social media or streaming service they’re using—though no company is ever explicitly named—should be put aside.
“Sharing your life can wait,” one advertisement tells the viewer, “because it’s just like everyone else’s.”
The ads were the brainchildren of agency 72andSunny in service of ESPN, and according to ESPN’s senior vice president of brand and marketing solutions Sean Hanrahan, the attack on new-media companies is a service to sports-lovers across America.
“If you’re not with us, you may be missing the big moment,” says Hanrahan, “or the breaking news you need to know.”
These anti-new-media spots will run for the next several weeks on ESPN’s television broadcast, of course, as well as its digital and mobile, and then it’ll disappear from the air until the summer officially starts; then the ads will resurface as baseball flourishes into full swing, hints of football sneak back, and—though NBC is the sole carrier again—the Summer Olympics begin, which will generally put people in the competitive sports mood.
These ads should come as no surprise to most; ESPN has been turning its sights on Netflix and company since its board started to become worried that even the largest sports programmer in the nation—and sports being a king of viewership in its own right—is losing its subscribers who would rather pay for streaming costs instead of cable.
These ads also aren’t ESPN’s first and only battalions either. In this past year alone, the sports network has focused on redesigning its more popular shows, most of all Sports Center, which drives fans to ESPN more than any of its other programming. Its begun to slice its broadcast into morning, midday, evening, night, and late-night sections and moving around its hosts to accommodate what the network thinks will be that audience depending on the time of day.
ESPN has also leapt to action more with cutting problems that lose viewers. When former MLB pitcher and Sports Center analyst Curt Schilling made transphobic comments a few weeks ago, the heads of ESPN fired him within hours of the public outcry.
ESPN ad campaign will rotate the commercial’s messages, to keep the messages fresh and viewers from boredom. Of course, the crux of these advertisements depend on the viewer being already tuned in to ESPN. Netflix subscribers currently binging—100 million hours a day total, on average—won’t see the ad at all, completely defeating the point.