The major change for the 2011 World Series of Poker broadcast had to do with the show’s overall format, as ESPN decided to give live poker a shot this time around by broadcasting most of the Main Event via a live stream on ESPN3.com, as well as devoting their late-night programming on ESPN 2 to the WSOP live feed.
Well, the ratings are in at Nielsen Ratings, and it seems that live poker may be here to stay –at least at non-peak hours on cable stations—as the WSOP Main Event live feed produced results that were 136% better than the typical programming in the 1AM to 5AM timeslot on ESPN 2. Overall the ratings on ESPN 2 received a .4 share which equates to roughly 415,000 viewers per episode.
Furthermore, when the broadcast was moved to ESPN during the run-up to the November Nine the audience increased to 646,000 viewers. So despite a number of grumblings from casual players, scoffing at the idea of not seeing the hole-cards of each and every player at the beginning of each hand, it appears that a “live” poker telecast may have some future potential –especially with a little tinkering.
Senior Director of Programming and Acquisitions for ESPN, Doug White, summed up the ratings to CardPlayer Magazine, saying: “We like how the show looked from a production standpoint and from a ratings standpoint,” he said. “In fact, these shows performed very well against the early morning (1-5 a.m. ET) average, increasing by around 136 percent overall. This was something the sport needed in order to take the next step. We don’t want poker to become stagnant. We want to be very fresh and progressive with our coverage, whether that means updating the featured table sets or increasing the amount of on-air analysis.”
Another added benefit of the live feed was the addition of some new voices in the broadcast in the form of poker pros Antonio Esfandiari and Olivier Busquet. Both Esfandiari and Busquet proved that you don’t need to see the hole cards throughout the hand to have an exciting telecast –of course you need expert commentary by the likes of Busquet or Esfandiari, who both surprised me with their timing, personality, and on air abilities.
Busquet talked to CardPlayer Magazine about his time in the broadcast booth, telling the poker outlet:
“I’m supposed to cater to the audience,” said Busquet. “I didn’t want to dumb down the strategy and analysis for anyone. The hard-core poker fans certainly appreciated it, but even the amateurs could get some value. They either enjoyed it from an entertainment perspective or for the first time ever, they realized just how complex this game could be. This isn’t some random luck-based game played by degenerates and we shouldn’t be afraid to show that to the public.”
“This has the potential to be really big,” said Busquet. “People shouldn’t just be wearing Full Tilt and PokerStars patches, they should be advertising for companies such as Nike and Adidas. There’s no reason it can’t happen with the right approach.”