The Future of Televised Poker
Dec. 7, 2011, Posted by Brandon.Adams
This is intended to be the first of a two-part blog post on the future of televised poker. In the first part, I speculate about the future of the TV poker landscape; in the second part, I hope to examine some of the economics and detailed rating info that will drive the future of TV poker.
The landscape has changed so dramatically that it is difficult to know where to begin. Let's start with some of the big picture facts about televised poker that were in place before Black Friday:
1. Hole card cams revolutionized TV poker and spawned a tremendous boom in TV poker that started with the World Poker Tour telecasts in 2002/2003, then accelerated tremendously after the Moneymaker WSOP win in 2003, before peaking in 2005/2006, and declining steadily thereafter.
2. TV poker ratings behavior is consistent with the observation that people are strongly enamored with televised poker the first time they observe poker with hole card cams, but then poker on TV becomes much less exciting to the viewer over time in the absence of major innovations in the quality of the telecasts. I mention this only because it is consistent with my personal experience and those of many of my contemporaries. Also, the strongly diminishing marginal returns to watching poker on TV seem different than what typical viewers experience with the NBA, the NFL, or even the PGA.
3. Starting around 2006, and peaking in 2008/2009, there were a profusion of TV shows whose primary purpose was promoting online poker sites. Many of these shows had very high production values and costs, and were fully non-economic without the backing of major poker sites.
4. From the perspective of March 2011, one could make the following generalizations: the WPT had declined steadily from it's peak to become a niche telecast, the WSOP-ESPN relationship was the mainstay of TV poker, and site-sponsored telecasts were likely to continue and expand internationally. At that time, one could also project that site-sponsored telecasts were likely to increasingly focused on low-budget telecasts focused on new markets (the Latin American Poker Tour, for example).
The WSOP telecasts were likely to focus on Europe and the Main Event, while the Circuit events the WSOP preliminary events lost ground. Among serious poker players, the high-budget televised cash game shows backed by online sites had become by far the most popular.
After Black Friday, it was immediately evident that everything had changed, but there were a lot of lingering questions, most of which still haven't been answered. Were the high-budget site-sponsored telecasts strictly non-economic?
Would people watch poker when they couldn't play online? Would the small segment of conventional advertisers attracted to poker (almost all of these had been courted by WSOP-ESPN) now turn away from poker? Would major sites continue to produce shows internationally despite being under indictment by the DOJ? Would smaller sites step in to produce their own shows? Could a professional poker tour of the type envisioned by the Epic Poker League possibly succeed?
The numbers from the 2011 WSOP telecasts seemed encouraging, but they were impossible to interpret relative to previous years because of the combination of live plus taped coverage (there were taped episodes, as in previous years, but there was also extensive live TV coverage on both ESPN2 and ESPN3). The overall quality of the telecast was arguably the best ever, and it featured the innovation of live coverage on ESPN.
In the next column, I hope to supply some of the detailed viewer stats from WSOP telecasts and other poker telecasts. For now, I'm make some quick predictions. First, an obvious one: site-sponsored US-based shows are dead. Of shows without site sponsorship: the WSOP will obviously be the centerpiece of TV poker for the foreseeable future, with almost everything focused on the Main Event (since this event is long enough to incorporate elements of story and personality). WSOP Europe will survive and will likely increase in importance, given the spectacular new venue (Majestic Hotel, Cannes) and the recent boom in France and especially Italy.
US shows without site sponsorship other the WSOP will likely fail or suffer. The Epic Poker League looks questionable at best at the moment; the WPT will continue only as a niche and low-cost production; other production outfits can succeed only if they have very low costs (and thus low production values) and correspondingly slight ambitions.
One area that holds some hope is poker shown on Internet TV. These shows can be long duration, low cost shows that appeal mostly to serious poker players. It seems likely that gambling outfits can monetize these shows effectively; it's unlikely that they'd be profitable without relying directly or indirectly on gambling income. I'm going to slowly gather come stats for my next column, and I hope to have it out by early January.
Originally from New Orleans, Brandon Adams entered the Doctorate in Business Administration program at Harvard Business School in 2001 (he went ABD in May 2004). Brandon taught eighteen courses at Harvard, including twelve sections of “Behavioral Finance” and two sections of “Fun and Games” (game theory). Most recently, he taught four sections of “The US in the World Economy,"in 2009 and 2010.
He’s been a regular in the biggest poker games held over the past five years. He's played on High Stakes Poker, Poker After Dark, and numerous other televised cash games and tournaments. Adams is the author of the self-published Broke: A Poker Novel. He is also the Founder of ExpertInsight.com, a digital business that uses the internet’s sweet spot – disintermediation – to connect experts in all fields with those who need consultation services.
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