I’m going to channel my inner Lee Davy and make a confession (Confessions of Another Poker Writer I guess I’ll call it), I’m not a big fan of televised poker. That’s right, I haven’t purposefully sat down and watched a prerecorded episode of the WSOP or the WPT in several years.
However, I do like watching live streams from time to time. The problem is, they’re often not available for events I’d like to watch.
If you’re a Twitter follower of Bluff Magazine’s Kevin Mathers you’re probably quite familiar with the lack of live streaming coverage at major tournament series.
If you’re not following KevMath on Twitter I have two questions for you: Why on earth aren’t you following KevMath? Do you hate poker?
If you follow the KevMath account on Twitter (or the funny but hardly ever online KevWrath parody account) you’re probably well aware of the number of people who ask the real Kevin Mathers if a tournament has a live stream, and even when he says “no” everyone wants to know where they can find these nonexistent live streams:
Hell is a place where everyone asks you if there's a live stream.— Kevin Mathers (@Kevmath) February 8, 2014
Basically, there is obviously a lot of interest in watching live streams, and while I understand the apparent logic behind not streaming tournaments that will appear on TV down the road, I have to wonder if the WPT and other poker tours aren’t making a major error by not live streaming these events, and whether their concerns are completely misplaced.
Quick Caveat: I’m not sure if the decision to live stream is the WPT’s, or if the decision falls to their TV partner Fox Sports One.
Two different demographics
Ok, back to business.
The reason I say this is the viewers of a multi-hour live stream, with its slow pace of play and nuanced commentary, would seem to be a much different audience than the people who tune in to see the highlight hands and get excited when the cliffhanger music leads them into commercial breaks.
I just have a hard time seeing the average live stream viewer being the same as a viewer watching the pared down one or two hour episodes each week.
Apparently I’m not the only one, as one twitter user put it:
I would be quite surprised if the availability of a live stream impacted the ratings of an edited down version that is slated to appear on TV months down the road.
For the most part, the edited down episodes are a case of been there done that for longtime poker players and poker enthusiasts, as there are only so many ways you can show AK vs. TT all-in, or a two-outer hitting on the river. For the rest of us we want more, and the only way to get it is by watching each and every hand unfold.
No discernible impact on the WSOP ratings
The World Series of Poker has drastically increased the amount of live streaming coverage they provide, and while the number of televised tournaments they show each year has been shrinking, there doesn’t seem to be any negative impact on their TV numbers.
So while the final table of the Main Event is shown on TV as a live stream, the lead up to the final table is shown in edited episodes and as far as I can tell when people have had both options (a live stream with televised episodes weeks to months later) live streams of this earlier action hasn’t seemed to impact ESPN’s WSOP ratings in any way.
Live streaming is probably the future anyway
As noted above, the World Series of Poker final table has already switched to a 100% live stream television format, and with the (slow) spread of legalized online poker across the U.S. it’s only a matter of time before these online poker sites start advertising on TV like they did during the original Poker Boom. And when they do they will need more poker content than is currently available to advertise during.
Because of this, I wouldn’t be surprised if a dedicated poker channel sprang into being in the coming years and if there was a constant demand for live streams.
Even if my hypothetical poker-only channel doesn’t spring into being, as live streams and innovations Twitch become more mainstream there also seems to be an opportunity to potentially sell advertising on these broadcasts.
What’s to stop the WPT from live streaming their tournaments and advertising legal online poker sites, or training sites, or DraftKings, or poker software?