If you happen to be of a certain age (much like this author), your earlier perception of this classic card game is a smoke-filled room with the likes of Walter Matthau and Jack Klugman as Oscar Madison and Jack Lemmon and Tony Randall as Felix Unger enjoying a night of poker with their buddies on “The Odd Couple.” Murray the Cop included.
Then, of course, there was agitated Joan Rivers verbally brawling with professional poker player Annie Duke on NBC’s “Celebrity Apprentice” in 2009 after beloved daughter Melissa received her walking papers from then non-Presidential candidate Donald Trump. “I met your people in Vegas for 40 years,” screeched the legendary Rivers. “None of them have last names.”
Actually, they all have last names. And they include Phil Hellmuth, Antonio Esfandiari, Mike Sexton, Jason Somerville and Vanessa Selbst, who have all been profiled on original Poker Central docuseries “Pokerography.” And there are celebrities like Kevin Pollak, Don Cheadle, Brad Garrett, Hank Azaria and Jennifer Tilly, who have all appeared playing the sport on Poker Central.
Donald Trump, meanwhile, has morphed from a gazillionaire real estate mogul — and host of the guilty pleasure reality/competition series – to a Presidential candidate to reckon with. And poker, the legendary game misconceived by some, is now a universal favorite with a more family-friendly theme thanks to seven month-old Poker Central, the world’s only 24-7 poker network.
Launched on October 1, 2015, the idea of Poker Central was born back in 2003 when “The World Poker Tour” launched on Travel Network. “It was after 9-11, so no one really wanted to travel and the ratings on the network dipped to all-time lows,” said Clint Stinchcomb, CEO of Poker Central. “So one of the guys in the programming department – Dan Russell, who is now the head of programming at Poker Central – suggested we do something with “The World Poker Tour.” It was different, there was lots of drama and people were getting rich every week. Thankfully, his colleagues went along with him and within a year “The World Poker Tour” was the highest rated series on Travel Channel. It was also generating about 30% overall revenue on the network.”
Discovery, which owned Travel Channel at the time, had that Felix and Oscar mindset, not ultimately realizing the potential goldmine it had in its possession.
“Poker became so big, so fast it really freaked people out,” remembered Stinchcomb. “And that is what really started the initial television poker boom, which went like gangbusters until the beginning of 2011 until ‘Black Friday’ happened. That was when the feds clamped down on a couple of companies who were not behaving like they should in the online poker space.”
“Out of that came what I like to called the ‘Second Renaissance,’” he added. “There were poker tournaments like “The World Series of Poker,” “World Poker Tour,” “European Poker Tour.” And we also started to see poker a tremendous source of fundraising — bigger than tennis and billiards and even golf!”
Stinchcomb also points to universities who use poker to teach economics, game theory and statistics, which have led to mainstream brands starting to embrace the space. And, voilà…Poker Central was born.
Debuting globally with a library with over 2,000 hours of content through a number of OTT providers in the United States, the target audience of Poker Central is age 18-49, the concentration of the audience is about 75% male.
The “hole cam” (the camera that displays a player’s face-down cards to the television viewers) is credited for changing the course of the game on air. “The invention of the hole cam and, correspondingly, the ability to show the odds of each person winning, were two huge innovations,” noted Stinchcomb. “We added a third — the shot clock — which adds another layer of excitement while offering great brand integration.”
Comparing the content strategy on Poker Central to the Golf Channel, Stinchcomb classifies the programming in five categories: tournaments and events, instructional, news and highlights, lifestyle, and documentaries about the history of the sport. There is even a scripted pilot in development with a millennial focus about a group of young guys trying to make a living playing poker. And individual shows on Poker Central at present include “100 Greatest Poker Moments,” “Heads Up Grand Slam,” “Global Poker League,” “Global Poker Challenge,” “Alpha 8” and “Doubles Poker Championship.”
“Over 50 million people play poker on a regular basis,” explained Stinchcomb. “Kids play, older people play, families play…something everyone gathers around. And we are developing some travel oriented programming as well to focus on the poker lifestyle. The opportunities for us are endless.”
Today, Poker Central has also announced its MVMT Million Dollar Final Table Challenge, a new contest offering fans the opportunity to win $1 million by predicting the order of the final table at the “Super High Roller Bowl.” And a consolation prize for $10,000 is available in the event of no one picking the exact winning table.
Want your chance to win $1 million? Just go to the Poker Central website on or before May 29th and choose the seven players that you think will reach the final table, including the order in which they finish. (There is only one entry per person, so choose wisely! ). And be sure to tune in when the “Super High Roller Bowl” is broadcast live starting on May 29, as you’ll have the opportunity to change your picks all the way through the conclusion of Day 1! Be sure to see who gets knocked out early and who runs hot so you can make changes accordingly.
“It’s a simple contest,” said Stinchcomb. “Just predict the players who make the final table, in the order they finish, and win $1 million!”
That in itself is quite an incentive to watch a network that is already one of the fasting growing platforms at present.