In December of last year, I wrote a story about how the race was on to see who would launch a casino gaming or poker-based cable television network here in the United States.
The race has turned from a sprint to a marathon, as here we are nine months later and not only have none of the candidates launched, it could be argued that we're actually no closer to seeing poker and gaming on their own channel.
Why all the trouble? Don't we have cable networks dedicated to things like gardening, and soap operas, not to mention things like the "Do it yourself network?" (Do what myself?) Personally, I am much more offended by soap operas than poker. But I must be in the minority, at least for the people that control cable systems and broadcast networks.
If the Travel Channel can wake up to logos, surely cable operators can wake up to gaming. Sure, there is a lot of poker on the air right now, but a dedicated poker or gaming channel would give the flexibility to provide a much more broad scope of programming for the poker nut. If poker is to take its place on the mantle of televised "sport," it should have a channel that can show lifestyle programming, biographical programming, historical programming, and all the other things that all sports networks have as staple fare on their programming menu.
In the center of the push to try to get a channel on the air is Casino Gaming TV (CGTV). Nick Rhodes is the CEO of CGTV, and after a year of conversations, is starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel.
CGTV has employed an interesting strategy to get their network on the air - they are starting with Canada. Beginning September 1st CGTV Canada will be on the air, with a blend of its own original programming and staple gaming content. I asked Rhodes what the biggest challenge has been in the task of getting a gaming channel on the air here in the U.S..
"Distribution. The biggest challenge and the most critical resource has been securing distribution from satellite companies. Those conversations have been ongoing for about a year or so. We are launching the channel in Canada September 1st. I think the launch of the channel up there, and as it evolves, and gets distribution north of the border, it will be easier for the U.S. distributors to evaluate its potential." Rhodes said
Being outside of the U.S. seems to be the way to go to get a channel on the air. As mentioned, the race was on in the U.S. last December, but the U.K. roared past the U.S. going from announcement (December) to launch (March) at fiber-optic speed.
The Poker Channel's launch in the U.K. has helped parent company Sky land a record number of subscribers, and in fact it has been announced that Sky is launching yet another channel devoted to games of chance, some of which will be more poker programming.
Rhodes recently traveled to the U.K. to check out the gaming channels there, and was impressed with what he saw. "What I learned from being in the U.K. is actually being able to watch the programming, and that there is an insatiable demand." Rhodes continued "The pay to play environment they have over there...the ability to actually go on, wager interactively, and communicate, and play against one another is essentially what the unleashed potential of the category is. The set top box environment they have there is so much more evolved than what exists in the U.S. We don't have the luxury of doing any projections, or assumptions about that kind of pay to play, or iTV in the U.S because it's prohibited by legislation at this point. The UK model is really one or two generations ahead of what can be done in the U.S. Our Canadian channel (CGTV Canada) will have iTV."
Clearly this is something that people want. The question is, why can't Americans get it? One thing we Americans are pretty good at is getting what we want, especially if there is profit to be had by the person getting it to us.
Is the solution only a new entity? Or, is there a major TV player out there already who may be able to provide this channel? At one point, it seemed that Fox Sports might jump into the fray. The "Fox Poker Channel" was rumored to be prepping for a launch earlier this year, but this idea now seems to be a non issue. I spoke to a friend of mine at big Fox (the network), and he said he was "90% sure the idea is 100% dead".
The rumors, and possible presence of the rumored Fox Channel did not help financing efforts for CGTV, or Edge very much, and it seems that only now has the threat truly subsided.
Rhodes sees a potential trouble point, and possible competitive disadvantage for a major company trying to enter this space. "A part of our programming menu at CGTV is going to be sports wagering, and fantasy sports." Rhodes says "And, I think if you look at all the major media companies, they all have professional league, or NCAA telecast rights, and it would be difficult for them to be in the business of both live sports event game transmission as well as sports wagering, or fantasy sports. Although there is beginning to be more and more of fantasy magazine style programming on ESPN and Fox. There is no barrier to entry for any of these major companies to come in. It just appears right now, most of them are focused on maximizing the all of the derivative opportunities of the channel they have on the air right now."
It seems if there is going to be a dedicated poker channel in the U.S., it is down (at the moment) to CGTV, or Edge. Back in December, it seemed that Edge TV had the 'Edge' toward getting on the air. However, Edge has not updated their website in months, and indeed attempts to contact Edge were not successful.
A dedicated gaming channel in the U.S. seems like the logical extension of a craze that has hit the country like no other in recent years. Hopefully, it will be only a matter of time before the certified TV poker nut has even more poker to watch.