Paying To Watch Poker: Is New Subscription Service The Future Of Poker Programming?

Steve Ruddock May 23, 2017 3688 Reads
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Poker Central has revealed the latest phase of its new business model after pulling the plug on its broadcast TV aspirations last year: the subscription-based digital platform PokerGO.

The debut of PokerGO comes on the heels of Poker Central’s recently announced partnership with the World Series of Poker and ESPN. It rolls out just in time for the WSOP and the Aria Super High Roller Bowl, which has been a staple of Poker Central’s original programming since its debut in 2015.

To create a top-notch product that people will deem worth a monthly subscription price, Poker Central has partnered with the Mori Eskandani-led Poker PROductions for the endeavor. The company’s resumé includes the WSOP, High Stakes Poker, and Poker After Dark.

In the future, PokerGO will offer exclusive coverage of non-televised moments from the WSOP and the Super High Roller Bowl (and more). There are also plans for exclusive live cash-game coverage.

“PokerGO will also host and stream their own high stakes cash games, produced by Poker PROductions,” a press release notes.

What do you get with PokerGO?

In the press release, Poker Central Vice President of Content Sam Simmons said, “Our goal is to provide all poker fans, whether they be the most passionate or more casual, with the best in live events, as well as, a wide array of original programming related to the game.”

Here’s what subscribers receive:

For $10 a month or $99 for the year, they can watch exclusive digital content from the upcoming WSOP and Aria Super High Roller Bowl and will also receive on-demand access to an archive of poker programming.

In addition to live events, PokerGO subscribers will have access to:

  • Event replays;
  • Poker Central’s original programming;
  • Archived episodes of Poker After Dark, Face The Ace, and more hits from poker’s TV past.

Cord-cutters are the future of poker programming

Poker Central’s moves since last year appear to be attempts to get ahead of the curve and carve out a digital footprint for proprietary poker programming.

The model has several things going for it:

  • Poker Central is a first-mover on this front.
  • Other than edited-down tournament episodes, there is a lack of new poker programming on TV.
  • Poker Central will have exclusive content, including poker’s flagship event, the WSOP Main Event.
  • More people than ever are cord-cutters and are willing to pay for premium digital content that’s affordable and plays to their interests.

As Simmons noted in the press release, “We found the process of securing carriage on the major cable and satellite TV players to be near impossible in the current media climate.”

Simmons went to say:

“Meanwhile, we saw industry trends going the opposite way as skinny-bundles began to take over, cable and satellite subscriber numbers took a nosedive as more ‘cord cutters’ and ‘cord nevers’ enter the market, and big time players in tradition TV like Esquire Network go direct-to-consumer digitally.

“These larger media industry trends, coupled with the typical poker fan’s propensity to consume all their content digitally made it a no-brainer for us to change our model by offering up our top-notch poker content direct to fans around the world.”

Is there a business model for a niche product?

PokerGO isn’t going to be Netflix, but there are a lot of people around the globe who like to consume poker content. Based on the early response, plenty are willing to cough up $10 a month for it — including yours truly.

Still, several people on social media have questioned if there is enough of an appetite for paid poker content when viewers can still get it for free on TV and Twitch.

How many subscribers can Poker Central expect? That is the million-dollar question. The answer obviously depends on the product they bring to market.

I don’t buy the argument about competing with Twitch or other free digital products. Considering the team behind it, Poker Central’s programming should be higher quality and better than some random online player with a webcam and an inconsistent Twitch schedule.

Furthermore, it should be packaged for and delivered to a wider, more casual viewing audience.

Look to wrestling for the answer

I’d point to the WWE’s subscription service as a potential comparison. It boasts 1.4 million subscribers at $9.99/month. Like poker, wrestling is free on TV during the week and has a diehard core audience.

Where the potential for PokerGO gets interesting is comparing the viewership of wrestling on TV to poker. WWE Smackdown episodes average 2.5 to 3 million viewers a week. The World Poker Tour averages just under a million viewers, and on a lesser cable network.

Theoretically, with its worldwide appeal (about 1 million of WWE’s 1.4 million subscribers are US-based), Poker Central could be aiming for numbers as high as the WWE has achieved.

It’s a lofty goal, but even if it manages just 25 percent of the WWE’s subscription numbers, that’s about 350,000 subscribers at $10/month, which would be a huge success.

Image: PokerGO.com