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The Business of Poker - Interview with George Greenberg of Fox Sports

The Business of Poker - Interview with George Greenberg of Fox Sports 0001

Note From John - So, call me Johnny Carson. This week, we will have a guest host. I found this interview with George Greenberg, who heads programming for FOX Sports Net interesting enough that I felt like it fit for the column. Oliver Tse conducted the interview, and should be credited for it. Thanks to Oliver, and I will have another column up Monday the 19th.

One of the key decision makers of the poker television programming business in the United States is FSN Executive Vice President of Programming and Production George Greenberg, who is responsible for the national backdrop programming distributed to the FSN (formerly FOX Sports Net) system of over 20 regional sports networks.

Greenberg, who graduated from Syracuse University with a Bachelors Degree in Psychology in 1976, started his career in television as a video projectionist during the overnight shift at the station formerly known as WCIX-TV 6 (now known as WFOR-TV "CBS 4") in Miami, Florida. He held executive positions at FOX Sports and FOX Broadcasting Company before he was promoted to his current role at FSN.

In the past two years, Greenberg has presided over the acquisition, production, and scheduling of a variety of poker programming products on FSN, including the only live poker programming to have ever aired in the US. recently had a chance to speak with Greenberg about many aspects of FSN's poker programming business. FSN's philosophy toward poker programming seems to be different in many ways from that of your competitors, ranging from the type of players featured in each tournament to the wide range of time slots being used to air poker programming. Please tell us more about FSN's poker programming products. Let's start with the live poker broadcasts.

George Greenberg: Live poker was the actual creation of (FOX Sports Chairman and DirecTV President) David Hill. David Hill wanted us from the day we started poker to eventually think about doing it live the same way we cover a NASCAR race or a baseball game or a football game... In sports, live...the essence of any game is the drama that unfolds in a live moment. We produce a lot of poker hours during the year, and they all have their own individual drama.

GG: But when you watch live poker, when you get to see every blemish, every raise, every check, it really unfolds as a continuous poker lesson. You really understand the philosophy of each player's perspective of why they do things. They also know that they have about 4 hours to complete the task. So strategies change, they start one way and they very quickly switch gears. But all this unfolds, live, in a very different way than it does if we were doing a taped event.

PN: FSN has chosen to partner with online poker "schools", most notably and, on a variety of poker programming products. How are these relationships structured?

GG: We are paid to produce programming by each entity. They (the online poker "schools") paid premiums to have sponsor entitlement for the events...There is another company involved, Hollybrook Regency, a promoter, that employs us to produce the events.

PN: The Poker Challenge series may appear to some observers to be somewhat risky, as it featured relatively unknown journeymen pro and recreational players instead of brand name pros. The ratings for the series didn't seem to be stellar (the same-day tape-delay broadcasts averaged about 200000 households on Saturday nights at 11pm-1am local time over 6 weeks in June and July). Please tell us how you made the decision to renew the series for a second year, and was it a difficult decision?

GG: You have to base your opinion on what was there before in that time slot, 11pm to 1am on a Saturday night...When came in to own that real estate, they at least matched what we were doing before, and we probably up the percentage overall for the duration by 20% compared to what we did last year at the same time. So it was successful programming for us from a ratings perspective, and it was very successful for

GG: As far as journeyman players, I mean, they are...this is the everyman...this is the plumber, this is the surgeon, this is the gas station attendant. And if you were to write a want to write a script about each one of your people... In this country, most people that watch poker play poker, and they all have their own story. It became a very fascinating and a very successful series for us. If it wasn't, then wouldn't be back again to...put up amateur people that play come back to play again. It is very good for both of us. I am very happy to have them back, both from a programming perspective and from a business perspective.

PN: Another interesting poker program on FSN is Learn from the Pros. How did FSN and come up with the idea for a poker educational series?

GG: has always been interested in programming that is not traditional in structure...When we had this idea for a series, they ( said, "OK, but it has to be structured this way." ( executives) Ray Bitar and Bob Wolfe have a very comprehensive and direct philosophy on how they want to be branded. And with their trust, we have been able to do very, very different poker programming. And it was collaborative: they were looking for ideas that were out of the box and we are always looking to push the envelope on how to produce poker programming.

PN: How has FSN's poker programming compared in ratings performance to other FSN national backdrop programming such as Beyond the Glory, The Best Damn Sports Show Period, and Sunday Night Fights?

GG: (Poker) is perhaps the most durable programming we have on (FSN). People can watch it once, twice, and three times and it will hold up in its ratings... Our number one series on Sunday night is Poker SuperStars, which we are very proud to have that brand, and it rates very, very well (averaging just under 400000 households each week). It has been our number one series on Sunday nights for two years in a row, and we just produced Poker SuperStars III, and it is a very unique, distinctive, and durable piece of programming, which I am very happy to have right now.

PN: Speaking of Poker SuperStars, FSN signed one "mainstream" sponsor in Odor Eaters Foot Powder for Poker SuperStars II. Has FSN signed additional "mainstream" sponsors for its poker programming in 2006?

GG: We are in discussion with a number of companies to own a piece of Poker SuperStars...Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC) is one of the sponsors of Poker SuperStars III. (The KFC logo) is actually on the backdrop of one of the walls (of the set).

PN: Have there been any discussions at FOX Sports regarding the idea of an all-poker digital channel similar to FOX Cable's other sport-specific networks such as SPEED Channel (auto racing), FOX Soccer Channel, and FUEL (action sports)?

GG: There are always ideas being floated around all the time for channels. Did we ever discuss it? Yes. Did it get past outside of a door in a room? No. Lots of ideas have floated around. We probably talked about every concept in the world about poker, but we have never, ever put an effort together to make an all-poker digital channel as you have just described.

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