Poker Central thinks it has a hot hand.
In 2017, the poker site introduced PokerGO, a subscription streaming service offering live events and on-demand content.
As part of its programming strategy, PokerGO struck a development deal with Believe Entertainment. On March 4, Believe Entertainment won the 2018 Oscar for Best Animated Short for Dear Basketball, a collaboration with Kobe Bryant and animator, Glen Keane, which you can stream now on Verizon’s go90.
So far the two companies have introduced two shows on the PokerGo — Poker Nights and Super High Roller Club — with more projects in the works.
The Savvy Screener recently spoke with Sam Simmons, Poker Central’s vice president of content, and Brian Hunt, president of Believe Studios and head of development at Believe Entertainment Group. They discussed the opportunities and challenges involved with launching a niche streamer and why they think PokerGO is a good bet.
The Savvy Screener: Poker Central was founded in 2015 as a 24/7 linear channel. What prompted the transition into PokerGo?
Sam Simmons: Pivoting to a digital SVOD service in 2017 came about after a great deal of consideration. A year or so after the launch of our 24/7 linear television network, we were not satisfied with our level of carriage across satellite and cable – it’s tough to be an independent niche cable network in the era of Peak TV. At the same time, we saw our core viewers — millennial males — cutting the cord in favor of skinny bundles and a la carte entertainment packages. We felt that Poker Central’s diverse array of poker content from live events to original programming would make a great fit for an OTT service catered to the most passionate fans and the more casual enthusiasts alike – and PokerGO was born.
TSS: What’s the distinction today between Poker Central and PokerGO?
Simmons: While Poker Central’s roots are in traditional, 24/7 media, the site remains a socially driven editorial and video platform that focuses on the lifestyle, storylines, and personalities featured within PokerGO programming. PokerGO, on the other hand, is our OTT service that hosts a healthy mix of tournaments and original programming catering to poker fans of every level. Poker Central and PokerGO work in tandem to provide coverage and entertainment tied to all aspects of the game.
Sam Simmons: “While we do believe that we’re really good at creating top-notch poker programming, we’re not blind to the fact that we’re competing against other SVOD services that are equally keen to carve out a place in our consumers’ ‘can’t miss TV’ schedules.”
TSS: Has PokerGO so far met expectations in terms of subscribers? Whom do you consider to be your competitors?
Simmons: The results over the first year have far exceeded our expectations – we’re pleased to see that fans see value in paying for premium, niche content. While we do believe that we’re really good at creating top-notch poker programming, we’re not blind to the fact that we’re competing against other SVOD services that are equally keen to carve out a place in our consumers’ “can’t miss TV” schedules. We’re going to continue to super-serve both hardcore and casual fans with the best live and original poker series to create a value proposition that is competitive with any other SVOD service on the market today.
TSS: Poker Central and Believe Entertainment Group have so far produced two series – Super High Roller Club and Poker Nights. Describe the collaborative process between your two companies.
Simmons: With poker being an incredibly nuanced game, there can be a bit of a learning curve for producers coming in from outside the world. We knew that Believe would excel in creating high-quality content as they’ve done many times before, but they’ve surpassed our expectations in capturing the intricacies of the game to create two series with us that deeply resonate with the entire spectrum of poker fans from hardcore to casual.
Brian Hunt: The process with Poker Central is extremely collaborative. They have strong ties to the best players in the game, along with a deep understanding of what will resonate with their audience. There’s a nuance to the type of content that works for poker fans, and without their input, it would be easy to miss the mark. On the flipside, they’ve been incredibly supportive of our creative instincts in both the development and production of both series.
TSS: What other projects can subscribers expect to see in the near future? Care to share any teasers?
Simmons: Even before Super High Roller Club was completed, we began the creative process of discussing potential future projects. Unfortunately, we have to stay tight-lipped for now, but we have a few concepts on the table where we go out in the world with some of the best poker players on earth and have a lot of fun doing it.
Hunt: I’ll just add that we love creating programming that speaks to a niche, but passionate fanbase. Poker fans are rabid. And not only are the stars of the space crazy talented, they’re true characters. We’re excited for the projects in the works.
TSS: How did Believe Entertainment Group come about?
Hunt: Believe Entertainment Group started about nine years ago, co-founded by Dan Goodman and Bill Masterson, who both still run the company. Dan and Bill had success at their previous company running Media Rights Capital’s digital arm with one of the first original series to run on YouTube, Seth MacFarlane’s Cavalcade of Cartoon Comedy. The model of bringing together premium talent, targeted audiences and top-tier brands in a digital format sowed the seeds for Believe. Shortly after, they started Believe with the animated children’s series The LeBrons starring LeBron James, which ran on Xbox and YouTube for three seasons. As the content landscape has changed so significantly over the past decade, Believe has evolved as well. While we still work closely with brands and have a deep understanding of the media side of the business, we have since started Believe Studios where we develop, finance and sell directly to distributors. At any point over the last few months for example, we might be working on short-form series like Super High Roller Club, a branded entertainment series for a Fortune 500 brand, a series for linear cable or a feature-length film.
TSS: Who are other content partners of Believe Entertainment Group? What other type of shows have you produced? Please name a few and where people can see them.
Hunt: We just won the Academy Award for Best Animated Short for Dear Basketball, our project with Kobe Bryant and legendary animator Glen Keane, which is currently running on Verizon’s go90. Our lifestyle series The Fix, starring Ayesha Curry, Sabrina Soto, Nicole Curtis and other amazing DIY talent runs across People.com and other Time Inc. properties. Last season, we completed our fourth season of In the Booth, a documentary series starring iconic DJ, Tiësto, which ran on Fuse/FM. And we’ll have some exciting announcements forthcoming in the next month or so as well.
TSS: Today there are more than 200 subscription streamers spanning an array of genres and interests. What do you expect the streaming landscape to look like in five years?
Simmons: It’s incredible, right? Personally, I’m always impressed that there are so many services out there – it’s clear that there’s a huge demand for broad-based entertainment, along with more niche programming. That said, I believe that more streamers will place a greater emphasis on live entertainment. The streaming environment (both free and paid) is quickly becoming a live programming arms race, with giants like the NFL and others getting involved. As cord-cutters and cord-nevers continue to move away from linear, I expect to see the largest live events that have been television staples migrate to the streaming environment to increase potential reach.
Brian Hunt: “While there may be more devices or platforms that allow you to curate across streaming apps, I don’t expect the number of players entering the market to slow within five years.”
Hunt: While there may be more devices or platforms that allow you to curate across streaming apps, I don’t expect the number of players entering the market to slow within five years. And hopefully they all need great original programming!
TSS: What are Poker Central’s overall plans over the next 12-18 months?
Simmons: As PokerGO successfully brought on early adopters as year one subscribers, our next goal is to expand the reach of the PokerGO brand to acquire viewers that may be more casual or even potential poker fans. So, in order to do that, we’re building a depth of content that will include over 100 days of live poker on an annual basis, along with lifestyle-oriented original programming that can be enjoyed by those who may not necessarily understand all the nuances of the game, but want to learn more. Super High Roller Club, for example, is a large step in this direction.
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