It's maybe not even accurate to call picture-in-picture commercial interruptions during sporting events a "recent trend." They're here, they're established, and they're going to remain for as long as broadcasters need to milk some extra revenue out of events whose rights are commanding more and more obscene amounts of money. They're of course annoying, like any sudden ad will be, but I've come to a kind of grim acceptance that they're often going to be there after kickoffs in the NFL, after icings in the NHL, during free throws in the NBA, and at seemingly random intervals during MLB at-bats (I guess there's so much dead air in baseball you can do them whenever).
The ruthless desire for efficiency that defines any company of this scale—league, network, major advertiser—means that every nook or cranny of downtime is an opportunity to push the viewer toward switching their insurance provider or placing a bet on the next player to sneeze. It's just another annoying fact of sports that we all have to deal with if we continue to watch them. I am perhaps too cynical to be actively mad about this development as a whole, but I am finding myself getting more and more steamed at a particularly recursive feature of the NHL playoff telecasts. These games take advantage of the whole picture-in-picture ad gimmick like any other, but in this case they are taking your attention away from the Stanley Cup Playoffs and directing it toward ... the damn Stanley Cup Playoffs!
Look at this from Game 4 of Canes-Rangers last week. I'm seeing double here!
It's not just an ESPN thing, either. Here's TNT from Avs-Blues Game 6. Please note that the Flames, featured prominently in the ad, were dead and buried at this point.
They did the same ad, again with the dang Flames, during Game 7 in Carolina on Monday:
Why? Why! Why. It'd be one thing if these ads were hyping up specific games to be played in the next few days—a MacKinnon-McDavid sizzle reel during Monday's action would not have been out of place—but these are simply promoting the general concept of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Anyone who's watching, and paying close enough attention to notice these ads, probably already knows about the Stanley Cup Playoffs. It's "please like my sport" aimed at people who like your sport. If you're not going to even nudge fans toward a specific future broadcast, why mess with the thing they're viewing just to remind them that the thing they're viewing exists?
I imagine there had to be some bureaucratic anti-logic, somewhere along the line, that led to this outcome. A higher-up fell in love with these ads and wanted to show them as often as possible. They booked the picture-in-picture spot but didn't snag a real sponsor for them. It's somewhere in the TV deals that every broadcast has to include at least a couple of NHL vanity spots. Whatever it is, it's dumb and irritating and borderline insulting. The best possible advertisement for the hockey games are the hockey games. This league's gotta stop seeming so needy.