There are some games that are naturals for TV – mainly ones with lots of action, clear winners and losers, and the added atmosphere of a spectating crowd. But, using these criteria, poker seems like a far cry from the sort of game that’s going to keep viewers captivated. However, if you look a little deeper, there are certainly plenty of features that do make for great viewing and they share a number of characteristics of blockbuster films.
Poker attracts charismatic and distinctive players who are always entertaining to watch as they pit their wits and nerves against each other. There are also twists and turns of luck so the result is never a foregone conclusion. There’s also the sheer pleasure of seeing the player that you’re rooting for carry off a big win. It’s even better when the stakes are at their highest like in the World Series of Poker Main Event held in Las Vegas last November where the world’s best battled for a cool $8 million first place prize.
Luckily for poker fans, the emergence of many new channels to watch their favorite game has occurred over the last few years so they can catch virtually any major tournament as well as televised games and even watch a tutorial or two.
It’s all come a very long way from the 1970s when all you could catch on broadcast TV were the final stages of the very biggest tournaments. What may have put producers off in those days were the difficulties of showing player’s hands to viewers so, in effect, they were just standing in the corner watching a game unfold.
The breakthrough which changed everything came in the 1990s with the introduction of the “hole cam”. This discreet and unobtrusive device meant hidden cards could be seen by viewers, involving them directly in the action.
Very quickly studio-based games began to be introduced in the late night schedules often involving pros playing against celebrities. To the broadcasters’ surprise this was a real winner with viewers with over 1 million people often watching into the small hours.
Today the fragmentation of TV audiences would probably mean that a terrestrial audience of this size could never be achieved, but many millions are tuning in worldwide online and through a wide variety of devices.
Now viewers can enjoy prime positions at major tournaments as well as tutorials from professionals in all aspects of the game as well as re-runs of classic clashes of the past. In fact many believe that the educational aspect of televised poker may be the most useful facet for players, particularly as observational learning has been shown to be one of the most effective ways to acquire and perfect new skills.
With a global appetite still growing for the televised game it is gradually raising its profile as well as capturing the attention of some big-money sponsorship deals. So can it really be long before it comes full circle and starts to make quite a splash in the TV schedules again?