When the much-ballyhooed Poker Central was in its starting phase, they made a big deal out of how they were going to be the “first 24/7 poker network on television.” Now just a shell of its former self, Poker Central thinks that the route to take to success will be by a subscription service called PokerGO. After the past couple of years of effort from Poker Central, it leaves many asking if a subscription service such as PokerGo is really the best answer for Poker Central?
First, a bit of background. When it debuted in October 2015, Poker Central had grand ambitions of being that poker cable television station that “made it.” The problem was they never really got out of the gate; the station wasn’t available on cable television (not originally…they would sign a deal with a small Ohio outlet in 2016) but through such streaming devices as Roku and Amazon Fire, to name a couple. This was a significant fail on their part, falling far short of the sizzle they had built when announcing the “station” was in the works.
They tried to bring on original programming – most notably Pokerography, a History Channel Biography-style show that featured poker and gaming legends and Inside Poker with Matt Savage, featuring the vaunted tournament director reporting from the hottest poker locales in the world – but instead of having a full slate, they relied way too heavily on past broadcasts of “made for television” events and tournaments from Europe. Such fare as Poker After Dark. Face the Ace and the PartyPoker Premier League were run on what seemed to be a constant loop along with the occasional dollop of World Poker Tour material. Once again, it was a significant fail on the originators of Poker Central that they didn’t have more original material to drive people to the channel.
With such missteps as this – and despite having the Super High Roller Bowl in 2016 to accentuate their fledgling station – it came as little surprise that, at the end of 2016, Poker Central’s hierarchy decided to “pull the plug” and revert to a streaming outlet on their own website and Twitch to start 2017. Instead of heading off into the sunset, however, Poker Central returned with a flurry, first by signing a complicated “distribution deal” with NBC Sports. Then came the 2017 version of the Super High Roller Bowl, but perhaps most shockingly, a deal was signed with the World Series of Poker for broadcast of some of their preliminary events.
That’s where Poker Central decided to toss another curveball into the mix. Although they would utilize Twitch, YouTube and Facebook Live to broadcast Day One action in the Super High Roller Bowl, they wouldn’t broadcast any more of the event live…unless you purchased their “new innovation” called PokerGO. PokerGO, for all purposes, is a subscription outlet for television programming. By paying $10 per month, viewers could watch the remainder of the Super High Roller Bowl as it played out. Not only that, those viewers would also be able to watch the WSOP tournaments that Poker Central has signed to broadcast over the next couple of months (promotional materials say “100 days” of live programming including the WSOP).
Once again, you have to ask…who thought that going the subscription station route was a good idea?
The concept of subscription services isn’t a new one. Those that have Roku or Amazon Fire – or watch on their computers – recognize that they must pay for their Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Video subscriptions to get that programming. HBO has HBONow, their own subscription service that allows people to watch their programming over an alternative outlet (re: not a traditional television) without having to have a cable subscription (many cable broadcast outlets will allow you to stream their stations IF you have a cable subscription). Other networks, such as CBS, TNT, and others, are all seeing a value in this and have either developed or are looking to develop an “a la carte” service for customers who want to watch their programs.
There’s one thing that these networks all have that Poker Central doesn’t – an audience.
HBO alone has nearly 49 million subscribers to its movie cable network, giving it an outstanding base to be able to move its subscription product – and this doesn’t even count those without cable who would like to have a movie outlet to stream. CBS, which will start a new segment of the Star Trek franchise over their subscription service this fall (after initially tempting people with a two-part “network premiere” over their traditional airwaves) has some of the top programs on network television (the NCIS franchise pulls in roughly 17 million viewers per week) and their CBS All Access subscription service already has a million subscriptions. These and other outlets have millions of fans to rely on because they’ve provided excellent content for years and have become a trusted commodity.
That’s where Poker Central has a bit of a problem. Not only have they not built a network that people could get behind, they haven’t exactly provided the programming that would bring in the viewers to a subscription service. Beyond that, there isn’t exactly people beating the door down to watch what they had going previously. A quick look at Alexa shows that the ranking of PokerCentral.com at #309,474 in the world; in comparison, WSOP.com is ranked #60,683 in the world.
So far, the public doesn’t seem to be biting on the PokerGO subscription service. According to a thread on the Two Plus Two forums, many people don’t like the factor that unsubscribing from the service allegedly is buried deep within the website and/or requires a physical call to end the subscription. There has also been plenty of criticism over the quality of the broadcast itself, with many allegedly stating there were buffering issues and other poor video playback. Additionally, viewers have stated that the outlets PokerGO said it could be viewed on weren’t available, something that would inhibit people from viewing your product. In that Two Plus Two thread, more respondents than not say they won’t bother with the PokerGO product.
The bottom line, however, is that there are plenty of outlets that present their poker product for free. The WPT streams some of their tournaments for free online, as does PokerStars with the PokerStars Championships. Twitch is a bountiful outlet for poker broadcasting that doesn’t cost anything (unless you WANT to contribute to the performer) and, if people really want to see an event such as the WSOP, they can wait until it comes across on ESPN.
Could PokerGo and Poker Central be a success? It is very dependent on how much they are willing to put into it as far as original programming, promotion, and viewer interaction. Signing the WSOP was important but, if they don’t draw any viewers, then WSOP bigwigs will pull the plug and Poker Central will find themselves back where they were at the end of 2016…or perhaps even worse.