The NBC National Heads Up Championship has been an experiment in every sense of the word. This is the first time a network has built an event for its own broadcast, and the broadcast was in uncharted waters in a number of ways.
As I reported before, I think NBC did a good job on the first episode, and I also think they improved the second episode by showing more poker. The team of broadcasters was competent enough, and the show seemed to have enough energy throughout to keep the casual viewer interested, and the poker nut glued to his or her set.
But television is all about ratings. Make no mistake...if the Superbowl drew a 0.5 rating, it would be off network television in a heartbeat. Networks cannot afford to air something that doesn't draw enough viewers...no matter how hot it was culturally. Poker, while certainly hot right now within our culture, has not really had its day in court with respect to ratings on a network broadcast.
The early results are in, and the numbers are cautiously optimistic. The first broadcast of the National Heads Up Championship on May 1st drew a 1.4 rating. These are certainly not super numbers, but are very respectable and solid number for that timeslot. This past weekend's shows drew a 1.5 (Saturday), and a 1.6 rating on Sunday. It should be noted that the Saturday broadcast was the lead in programming to the Kentucky Derby, and is probably skewed a little higher due to that. But, the Sunday number shows great promise. The fact that the number could go up in a second week is a very good sign. The curious new viewers from week one actually came back, and a few more people tuned in than did the week before. To put this in perspective, the poker show got better ratings than the NBA playoff game in the same time slot (OK, so only in a few markets, but still...it sounds impressive).
I think all this bodes very well for the future of poker on network television. Sure, network honchos are not scrambling right now saying "get me ANY poker"....but, they probably are noting the ratings, and in the back of their minds noting to themselves that they should probably find room on their sports schedules for some poker coverage. In addition, they know they have a built in advertiser base, as the online rooms will line up to hand the network money to get to the mainstream viewer. Get ready for more poker on network TV, and even more new & unique ways to present our great game. I know I am ready.
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