This is a challenging time to launch a new network, but Clint Stinchcomb, CEO, Poker Central – announcing a move into live programming with Live at the Bike – thinks his is a winner.
Cynopsis: How did the idea for Poker Central come about?
Stinchcomb: I was at Discovery Communications in 2003. It was post 9/11 and Travel Channel was really struggling – no one wanted to travel or watch programming about travel. Dan Russell was the director of programming there (he is now SVP of programming at Poker Central) and he recommended giving the World Poker Tour a try on Travel Channel. Their viewers loved the high stakes, the players, the strategy, the drama, not to mention the bad beats and the good beats. It became the highest rated show on the network and far and away the most profitable series.
Then poker hit a rough patch around 2011 when there were some online issues but we’ve seen a resurgence in the game these past few years. To that end, I always thought poker would make an incredible, successful stand-alone network given over 50 million people play on a regular basis in the United States alone – over 100 million worldwide. The game is embraced by mainstream brands, it is one of the biggest sources of charity fundraising and it’s not uncommon to find it being used to teach strategy, statistics, game theory, economics and math at some of our nation’s most prestigious educational institutions like Harvard, Yale and MIT. All these drivers together with proven ratings power on television compelled us to launch the channel.
Cynopsis: How are you approaching distribution challenges that a nascent network faces today?
Stinchcomb: I have been in the business since 1992 and I can tell you that there’s never been a “good” time to launch a network (laughs). What I have found over many years and after helping to launch several networks is that if you can deliver a strong value exchange, an extraordinarily valuable product, with an underserved and passionate enthusiast base, then there’s absolutely opportunity. And then you have to hire the best people in the business, which we did with Sid Eshleman and Bob Gold.
Cynopsis: Who is your target audience and how are you reaching them?
Stinchcomb: Our primary audience is 18-49 year old males. There is a very large, engaged and energetic millennial audience that loves poker and poker programming. We vigorously leverage social platforms to reach them where they are – Twitter, Instagram, Facebook and our channel on Twitch. In fact, we launched just a few months ago and our Facebook likes already exceed 300,000.
Our talent and partners, which include the most winning players in the game – Antonio Esfandiari, Phil Hellmuth and Daniel Negreanu – are also the faces of Poker Central and we leverage their enormous social presence as ambassadors for the network.
Cynopsis: What has the reaction been from advertisers?
Stinchcomb: Our advertisers love the channel. We offer a demo segment that’s difficult to reach. There is also a level of frustration and price shock with traditional stick and ball sports and we represent a great alternative. And we are excellent partners – in a world of integration, it’s powerful and seamless to organically integrate partners into our programs. We’re currently working on several unique and innovative implementations with a number of our advertising partners for our upcoming Super High Roller Bowl series.
Cynopsis: What is the balance of programming currently on the air? What is the ideal balance?
Stinchcomb: We have five distinct programming pillars: Tournaments and events such as: the Super High Roller Bowl, a tournament with the world’s highest stakes poker tournament made for television; our new, upcoming show, Global Poker League, Premier League Poker, Super High Roller Cash Game, Face The Ace, and, many others.
Then we have instructional shows such as Inside Poker with Matt Savage; Lifestyle content, which includes biographies like our series Pokerography and destination based programs; News and highlights; and finally, films and documentaries for the more casual viewers. About 50% of what you will see on air in 2016 will be originals or U.S. premieres.
And today, we are announcing our move into live weekly programming with Live at the Bike. With this new show and our recently announced Global Poker League, we will soon offer three nights per week of live. Historically live programming rates well and develops a strong viewer connection. It’s exciting to watch games unfold during tournaments and big events.
Cynopsis: Are you still letting distributors sign up to carry poker Central?
Stinchcomb: There is still an opportunity if they call and get through to Sid Eshleman @404.414.5772 (laughs). Before we created Poker Central, we reached out to a number of distributors to figure out the path to distribution in today’s world. Distributors told us that if we could convey a scope of rights to them that included VOD, TV Everywhere, and OTT at a palatable value exchange then we’d have a clear path to meaningful broad carriage. It’s very exciting to see the channel succeeding and capturing one of the most passionate fan bases of players and enthusiasts.
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