Black Friday changed more than just online poker in the United States; it turned the industry on its head. One of the casualties was poker television shows, for which advertising budgets dropped and laws made the broadcasts mostly impractical.
That left a chasm in the poker world, as fans were left with little beyond the World Series of Poker broadcasts on ESPN and the World Poker Tour on FOX.
Enter Poker Central, a 24/7 poker network.
In the summer of 2015, Poker Central announced that it would launch on October 1 to several markets, including the United States. Executives from Discovery and Turner networks were behind the private-held company ready to make its mark. And three of the investors were revealed to be Daniel Negreanu, Antonio Esfandiari, and Phil Hellmuth.
To start, the channel bought the rights to more than 2,000 hours of programming, including episodes of the World Poker Tour and Premier Poker League.
Poker Central produced a summer tournament at ARIA in Las Vegas called the Super High Roller Celebrity Shootout. The star-studded event was then broadcast on NBC Sports Network to advertise the brand. Meanwhile, advertisers were signed as partners for that series of three shows – Amazon App Store, DraftKings, and Dollar Shave Club.
Confidence and Interest Grow
By August, two new shows were in production for the network. Inside Poker was to offer in-depth and unfiltered conversations with poker greats, and Matt Savage was to be the host. Jennifer Tilly was also leaked as one of the first guests. Pokerography was to be a documentary-type program that offered biographies of some of the greatest names in the game, including Antonio Esfandiari, Phil Hellmuth, Erik Seidel, Jennifer Harman, Mike Sexton, and Chris Moneymaker.
Initial programming for the October 1 launch was then revealed, which was to include shows like Heads-Up Grand Slam, Poker After Dark, Face the Ace, and High Stakes Poker. The first world premiere – Super High Roller Bowl Cash Game – was set for a December 2 debut, and the network launched a contest for fans to win trips to Las Vegas each month for private poker lessons with Hellmuth, Esfandiari, or Daniel Negreanu.
Poker fans tuned in to Poker Central online beginning in October, and interest continues to grow. The original programming has become a big hit, and players regularly tune in to watch old poker shows, especially favorites like the National Heads-Up Poker Championship and Premier Poker League.
Poker on TV for Today’s Players
Fans and players of today’s poker have a unique opportunity with Poker Central programming. They can search for their favorite shows and watch them online, as well as on platforms like Amazon Fire TV, Apple TV, Roku, Xbox 360 and Xbox One, and FilmonTV.
In addition, the network has been gaining in the distribution department. A December deal with the National Cable Television Cooperative (NCTC) makes it easier for smaller cable providers to license the network, of which there are nearly 900 of them.
By the start of February, it was announced that the Buckeye Cable System of Ohio will the first channel to broadcast Poker Central, on both a standard and an HD channel. Viewers in many Ohio cities, as well as parts of Michigan, will soon have access to 24/7 poker television. In addition, the new Global Poker League will be aired on Poker Central, as will an upcoming Super High Roller Bowl from Las Vegas.
The addition of new programming is attracting new viewers, and more people are talking about the network. With a lineup of shows illustrating the vast history of the game, as well as streaming content via multiple platforms, Poker Central is positioning itself to become the only place that poker fans and players will want to get their programming.
It may take many more months to increase viewership and draw a more regular audience, but Poker Central executives and investors are in it for the long haul. They are slowly but steadily building a product that is unrivaled in the gaming industry.
For now, people can check with the NCTC to see if their local cable providers have the option for adding Poker Central, and popular demand to that provider can make it happen. New shows being added for 2016 will draw new audiences, as well.
If Poker Central has anything to say about it, televised poker is back … and here to stay.