ESPN’s new ads try to guilt you for checking Facebook

A logo sign outside of the headquarters of ESPN in Bristol, Connecticut.
Image: associated press/Kris Tripplaar/Sipa USA

Why binge-watch Netflix or post on Instagram when you could be watching the game?

That’s the oddly premised question ESPN asks in a new ad campaign that takes on some of the many new time drains competing with it for your attention, including streaming services like Netflix and Amazon and social media networks like Facebook and Twitter.

In the first ad, created by agency 72andSunny, a woman scoffs at a suggestion from a streaming service (clearly meant to be Netflix, though the company is never named) that she might enjoy a movie about a diamond heist.

“Silly algorithm,” she chides it, as she wraps herself in a Steve Kerr blanket and settles in to watch a sideline interview with ESPN’s Doris Burke apparently the much more exciting option.

In another, a man stands alone in a dark apartment, photographing a sandwich.

“Your life’s so worth sharing,” a narrator mocks.

But when he sees that the Instagram-like generic social network he’s posting to is already saturated with sandwich pictures, the banality of his existence dawns on him. He flips on Sportscenter on his smartphone and feels fulfilled.

Never mind that market research shows that many people browse and post on social media on a second screen as they watch sports on TV.

The idea is to stoke a sense of FOMO among prospective ESPN viewers; while you’re busy posting sandwich pics or streaming diamond heist movies, you’re missing out on the exciting moments happening live on the Disney-owned channel.

But it’s not just your attention that ESPN is competing for. The sports media juggernaut has been struggling lately as a growing number of cord cutters opt to throw out traditional cable TV packages in favor of streaming services like Netflix, Hulu and Amazon.

And while live events like the games ESPN airs are still the biggest draw of the traditional bundles, that may soon change. Earlier this year, Twitter won the hotly contested rights to stream Thursday night NFL games through bidding that also reportedly involved Facebook, Amazon and Verizon.

These commercials are ESPN’s recognition that as the lines blur between traditional media companies and all manner of digital upstarts, everyone’s a competitor.

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