ESPN Will Tackle Amazon, Twitter, Facebook in New Ad Push

ESPN’s next match-up will pit the Walt Disney-owned sports-media juggernaut against some of its newest and fiercest rivals.

A new series of ads from ESPN aims to prod viewers to choose watching ESPN live rather than streaming a movie, scanning a social-media site for friends’ birthdays or sharing pictures of food. The idea is to seed in viewers’ minds the notion that ESPN content is fresh, live and perishable, while new-media activities on smartphones and tablets can always be done later.

“If you’re not with us, you may be missing the big moment, or the breaking news you need to know,” said Sean Hanrahan, ESPN’s senior vice president of brand and marketing solutions, in an interview.

The spots, created by ad agency 72andSunny, will run across ESPN’s TV, digital and mobile properties for a few weeks, he said, and then come back for the summer. They surface after ESPN’s financial performance has come under heavier scrutiny by investors concerned that even live sports – one of the few TV programming genres to keep mass audiences – can’t keep consumers from dropping subscriptions to the network.

The commercials don’t mention the social outlets by name, but it seems clear that ESPN is tilting at Netflix, Amazon, Instagram, Twitter and Facebook. “Sharing your life can wait,” one ad tells viewers, “because it’s just like everyone else’s.”

ESPN has spent considerable time this year reworking its flagship franchise “Sports Center” and that is a factor behind the launch of the campaign as well, said Hanrahan.

Where “Sports Center” was largely a by-the-numbers highlights show, the program is now tailored for the time of day it is on. Each version of the show plays to a particular audience, like Scott Van Pelt’s late-night edition. Van Pelt is featured in a scene in one of the spots. Live sports and live, breaking news can both be attractive, he said.

ESPN launches the promotional salvo just days before the start of TV’s annual “upfront” market, during which U.S. TV networks try to sell the bulk of their advertising inventory for the coming season. The network has reason to strike: Analysts and TV executives believe this year’s haggle could be one of the first in about four years to play out in TV’s favor.

The campaign will be around well beyond the end of upfront talks, Hanrahan said. In recognition of the increasing attention consumers are devoting to mobile and streaming activities, ESPN will keep different messages in the effort rotating for the next 18 to 24 months, he said.

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